Baby, There's a Shark in the Water
(Title from VV Brown's "Shark in the Water". The song's at the bottom of the post.)
First round matchup: Colorado Avalanche
How familiar this position seems, eh? Just 82 games and a summer ago, the San Jose Sharks were in the exact same place by the end of the 2008-09 regular season. First in the West. And look at where that put them.
Have the Sharks learned from their past experience? Or will history repeat itself?
In the past couple of games, the Sharks have proved me wrong and have gotten out of their mid-April/May slump. Evgeni Nabokov is getting back to his A-game and the Sharks are looking to power on through with the NHL's arguably best line, Dany Heatley-Joe Thronton-Patrick Marleau.
They have talent in their top-line and they have secondary scoring from their other lines. With the young guns like Devin Setoguchi finding a new love in passing and creating brilliant plays, last year's playoffs have given them experience more than a beat down.
Old habits die hard, though. I am not all that certain that the Sharks of St. Joseph have beaten their slump. Things will come and haunt, and I have a suspicion that there is going to be a slump. It may only last a game, but one game can be the turning point of the series, and the Avalanche could run away with it.
Defensively, they are great. A balance has been found in their 2-way defencemen. They get into the offence without forgetting their main responsibility is to take care of the back-end. Offensively, they have a big centre man to cause a rukus in front of the net and who can make plays. These Sharks aren't afraid to bite and when they smell blood, you better swim away as fast as you can - or get your defence up to it's A+ game.
San Jose has the West's best PP at 21%, and the NHL's 5th best PK at 85%. And if they score first, the Avs better watch out because these Sharks have a .795% of winning the game after getting the first goal. Even if the Avs get the first goal, the Sharks have a success rate of .465% (2nd best in the NHL) of winning after trailing after 20 minutes.
San Jose cannot let go of what's gotten them to the top of the West: faceoff wins, special teams, and their responsibilities. San Jose is the league's team with the best faceoff percentage at winning 55.6% of the ones they take!
The past couple of games, SJS coach Todd McLellan has used his time to mix and match lines and find chemistry with new lines to be prepared to switch it up on their opponents and still get the same production. Things look good for the Sharks, but I'm not so sure about the Cup.
Nabokov needs to bring his game back to what it was mid-way through the season, and forget about his past slumps. You need to learn and thrive off of the past, not sit on it.