Cory Schneider showed yesterday why he may be the new #1 in Vancouver. More important though, the Sharks showed why they will be #1 not only in the Pacific, but also in the Western Conference. The Sharks outshot the Canucks 45-27. The Sharks are 7-2-1 in their last ten games. They have scored 14 more times than they have been scored on this season. And they are only going to get better.
At the start of the season, I was skeptical about the trades. I never saw Marty Havlat as anywhere near Dany Heatley in terms of talent. And while Havlat hasn't been Heatley on the score sheet thus far, the new lines are working better than last year's. Thornton, Marleau, and Pavelski are all scoring at a point per game clip--great news after the slow start that had many people thinking Marleau was too slow to keep up with the young, high-speed offense. Burns has been good, but nothing spectacular. The same goes for Havlat. But the real improvement is that the Sharks are a team. They have depth and discipline and a team-first mentality. They are no longer just a first line team.
Look at yesterday's game against a powerful, though underperforming, Vancouver team. The Sharks gave up a powerplay goal, but were shorthanded only once (much better than the undisciplined performances of last year's Western Conference Finals). Pavelski and Marleau combined for 14 shots. Despite playing only 5:58, Andrew Desjardins was +1 with an assist and won more than 55% of his faceoffs. Over his past five games Desjardins has 3 assists, is +4, has taken no penalties, and has won over two-thirds of the draws he has taken, while averaging about 8 minutes a night. And while those numbers don't necessarily jump out at you, they show that the Sharks can roll lines when possible, and that they don't have to rely entirely on three players for offense.
The big story, however, has been Thomas Greiss. While I always liked Greiss, many worried that the Sharks were in serious trouble when Niitty went down. However, I think being waved or dumped may be in Niitty's future now. Greiss is more than capable as a backup. Clearing Niitty's $2 million salary might be smart come the deadline, especially if the Sharks are looking to make a push deep in the playoffs (when they'll lean heavily on Niemi). Back to Greiss. The 25 year-old German netminder is 4-3 with a .929 save percentage and 1.99 GAA. Those numbers speak for themselves and maybe even hint that Greiss could be the Sharks goalie of the future.
*Just a last thought. What do you think about Sidney Crosby's return? Do you, like some people, think he "damaged" his image by screaming "F*** Yeah!" after scoring in his first game back?
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