When correlating the Sharks and the playoffs, the average hockey fan probably binds together the words: Sharks, playoffs, overrated, and disappointment into the same notion. Luckily the Bay Area is not home to the average fan.
With the Sharks back in the postseason, San Jose is hoping to one-up last season’s performance of making the Western Conference Finals. With new acquisitions, possibly the best rookie in the league, and another year of experience under their fighting straps, San Jose is more prepared than ever before. Is this finally the year Lord Stanley ends up in the Silicon Valley for the summer? Here are five reasons why I think the Sharks are primed for their coming out party.
1. Depth – All four of San Jose’s lines can score. With seven 20-goal scorers on the roster, the Sharks are arguably deeper than ever before. Teams can’t simply game plan to shut down Thornton, Marleau, or Heatley, and expect to win games. Opponents look all the way down the San Jose roster and see scoring threats from every angle. That is going to be a problem for the seven other Western Conference teams, even Vancouver.
2. Experience – Since last season San Jose has added a few key pieces to the puzzle that were meant to help from this point forward. Antti Niemi and Ben Eager won the Stanley Cup last season with Chicago and know what it takes to get to that next level. In addition, half of the defense; Dan Boyle, Niclas Wallin, and Kent Huskins have also won Stanley Cups in the past. Experience is no longer an excuse in San Jose, especially since the majority of this team reached the conference finals in 2009-10. This team has felt the heat before and appear ready to jump back into the fire.
a. San Jose boasts the 2nd best power-play in the NHL at 23.5%.
b. San Jose has seemed to ‘fly under the radar’ this season, unlike it years past when expectations may have been higher than the players were able to handle. This suggests the players are playing more freely and are better likely to thrive.
c. Antti Niemi: Has a Stanley Cup. He is the only player who can single handedly win games for the Sharks in the playoffs by standing on his head. He is also 26-5-4 with a 2.08 GAA and a .928 save % since January 15th.
d. The Fans: Sharks fans are loyal and supportive. Maybe the best in hockey game in and game out. The Tank is going to be louder than ever this postseason and it may help the Sharks win a game or two that they might otherwise lose on the road.
4. Hot at the right time – San Jose ended the regular season strong. Since January 15th the team went on a tear, going 27-6-3 and moving from 12th in the Western Conference, to 2nd. In their final 12 games, their record was 9-2-1, a good sign heading into the playoffs. Finishing the regular season on a high note usually equates to success in the postseason.
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5. Confidence – If an athlete lacks any confidence, it is a colossal advantage for the opponent no matter what arena is it in. Golf, tennis, baseball, basketball, or hockey, it doesn’t matter what the sport is. If you lack confidence, you will be taken advantage of. There is no place in the playoffs for the weak minded and San Jose knows that. The time is now for the Sharks. San Jose has the right talent and personalities in the locker room to guide each other through any rough patch that they may come across. Penn State Head Football Coach Joe Paterno once said, “Besides pride, loyalty, discipline, heart, and mind, confidence is the key to all the locks.”
I believe the Sharks have all of the above and then some.
This piece can also be found on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area at…csnbayarea.com