Sharks Gameday: The One Where We Gently Nudge



4:00 PST
30-19-6, 66 points 21-30-4, 46 points
4th in Western Conference
13th in Eastern Conference
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Fire & Ice

New Jersey has gone 11-1-2 in their last fourteen games, a far cry from their horrid start to the regular season that essentially put them out of the playoff picture by the end of November. A coaching change behind the bench has been the stimulus for that, as former Devils Head Coach Jacques Lemaire has returned to his old stomping grounds to pick up his 600th career win last night against Toronto.

It's a different squad than the one the Sharks went up against in October, and one that should be a good test for a team that has handled pretty much everything they've been dealt on this current road trip.

One guy that has gotten a fair bit of attention lately for his lack of goal scoring production has been Dany Heatley, who has scored in just three games since 2010 began. Although he's tied for the team lead in points with Joe Thornton at 46, Heatley's struggles have been pronounced despite the team's strong run. Four goals and seven assists in a seventeen games stretch isn't what the organization was expecting when they brought him over from Ottawa two offseasons ago, and that on again off again play hasn't just been an issue since January. It's something that reared its head for the majority of the year.

The thing is, he's getting a decent amount of chances, even in the midst of a drought. He hasn't been held off the shot chart since January 26th, which was the first time he was o-fer in the shots category after a 3-2 loss to Dallas on the 13th of December. In fact, Heatley has only posted zero shots three times this season. He just hasn't been burying those shots like he has in years past.

I haven't gone over the shot charts for Heatley this year, so this is an exercise that tests my own memory, but one thing Heatley did very well last season was crash the net and bang home rebounds. I haven't seen him driving to the net as much lately which could account for his lack of production. Furthermore, "Heatley shoots wide" has become somewhat of a common refrain from Randy Hahn during this season-- it's clear that the guy is pressing to pick his spots in the corners, and a return to form may have to include getting a little dirt in his game. It's what worked last season and is what this team needs. One thing I haven't seen out there is the effect his torn groin muscle in the playoffs at the end of last year may be having on his game-- by all accounts Heatley has been healthy this season, but there's always the possibility something is bugging him that he just has to play through considering the fact that he went through surgery this offseason to repair the damage.

If you're looking for the biggest piece that this team has been missing this season, it's been that production from the top three players on the team-- Marleau, Thornton, and Heatley have all had down years offensively, especially at even strength. That's going to be a big key going forward for San Jose because despite the wonderful production of guys like Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe, and the additions of Ben Eager and Kyle Wellwood which have given those lower lines a much needed breathe of fresh air, I just can't see the Sharks winning 2-1 games in the postseason consistently enough to make a deep run. When the level of competition increases that type of performance is going to be hard to come by. It doesn't play to the roster's strengths.

The thing is, if those top three players manage to crank the volume to 11 and start melting faces with some nasty monochromatic scales summoned from the depths of the netherworld, this defensive posture we've seen lately is a great building block to success. All the blocked shots, stellar play by Niemi, and backchecking by the likes of Joe Thornton are excellent standards to set for the rest of the season, especially when one considers the issues San Jose has had with holding third period leads. If you have managed to fix your issues from the net out the next logical step is to take a few more chances offensively with those values already ingrained.

Striking a balance between the two is the Sharks opportunity now. And judging by the list of offensive names on the roster, that's a task they should be well-equipped to handle.

Prediction: Sharks win 4-0. Goals by Heatley (x3) and Boyle. McGinn texts Dany Heatley before the game with a few bits of advice, and number 15 responds with a three goal night. Kid's an absolute machine lemme tell ya.