The theme of this post is one I’ll return to regularly -- a recap of current Sharks highlights . . . along with a lowlight or two.
So, let's jump to the former, with #1 -- Chris Tierney:
It has become evident over the past 20 games or so, that Tierney has developed and matured in poise and vision. He once clearly fit in that “bottom six forward” category (in the league-wide sense), which is not to say he would crack the Sharks current top six. But he's now challenging that perception to the point that on many rosters, a top-six role wouldn’t look so bad on him. What are we seeing exactly? It’s a bit more skill, but more importantly, the composure to take that extra fraction of a second to see the better option out of the zone; it’s the deke to retain possession instead of the safe puck-huck; it’s the smart play over the forced play -- acting versus reacting.
#2. The Big Pavelski: as I’m writing this, Pavs has netted his second goal against the Sabres, making that two goals in each of the last two games. I know Dallas and Buffalo are not defensive juggernauts these days, or even playoff hopefuls, but it’s good to see Pavs going and reminding himself just how much he loves to score.
#3. Beating the Beatables: Having mentioned less-than-competitive opponents, let’s stick with that thought for a moment. Over the past few seasons, the Sharks have had their share of struggles against teams far below them in the standings -- teams that basically have the Samsonites in the hallway already. Whether it be the Coyotes, Canucks, Flames or others of that ilk, the Sharks just haven’t seemed to get themselves properly prepared for those games. It’s heartening to see that they are dispatching the Jets, Stars and Sabres of late, so you have to wonder if there’s a different level of commitment approaching these games.
#4. Beating the World-Beaters: juxtaposing the previous highlight, we look to the recent game against the Capitals -- arguably the most complete game of the year, or at least in a long time. What we saw was that the sharks can indeed still skate and smother in all areas of the ice, playing a full 60 minutes against the best teams when they want or need to. This may seem obvious to some of you, but after watching their struggles against the Wild and others in that upper echelon, it’s nice to get a reminder.
#5. Jumbo Shooting the Puck: what -- is that a typo? Jumbo's no Auston Matthews and never will be when it comes to SOGs, but at least it doesn’t seem like he thinks he’s going to kill his mother if he fires on net. Arguably one of the better shots in the league based on my limited exposure to it, but Jumbo needs to get other teams wondering what he’s going to do with the puck. And before you rise up in outrage over this next comment, consider it carefully: there have been times where we've seen Jumbo actually become a liability when an opponent knew he wasn't going to shoot. Teams know how to take advantage of it and have done so in the past.
#6. Finding Legs -- Hertl, Donskoi and Karlsson: First, I don’t think there’s much disagreement that these three have been fairly easy to knock off the puck -- and off their feet for that matter -- in the past. Post-surgery, Hertl seems to be doing well, and he also seems to have realized just how big he is. Both Donskoi and Karlsson used to be maddeningly easy to push off the puck, and to the ice as well. Sure, it still happens, but not nearly as often, and not nearly as easily. Kudos to them and their strength and conditioning coaches.
Turning to some low-lights, I'm going to hop over the boards to the ice-level color commentator, Jamie Baker. I know -- not too popular to criticize a Shark fan-fav and noted Cow Palace conquerer. I'm not sure if it’s his tone, his poor vocabulary and pronunciation (e.g. “lax-a-daisical”), or what, but listening to “Bakes” just gets me down -- even when the Sharks are up.
But subjective comments aside, he is far too often caught flat-footed, rambling right through a dramatic save or even a goal, when we should be hearing Randy’s excellent play-by-play and patented goal call. It’s a matter of timing, awareness, and finesse -- none of which we find in Baker. Hey, I could have picked on Boedker, but what fun would that be?
Look for my next piece focusing on the Sharks’ worst playoff match-up, which is looking likely, and a focus on the irreplaceable Marc Edouard Vlasic.
Thanks for reading and don’t trip over the blue line as you enter the zone!