1/24/08 SHARKS 4, st. louis 1
Yes, we can't get too carried away, because it's just one game, but still,
Jonathan Cheechoo possibly broke his schneid for good last night with a pair of Jonathan Cheechoo-esque markers. Milan Michalek added a goal and two assists, and Joe Thornton was, well, Joe Thornton, racking up three assists in the victory. Cheechoo's first goal was a beautifully set up power-play that resulted in a one-timer  that found it's way past a beaten Manny Legace (Michalek, Thornton). The second was equally as Cheechoo-y, but wasn't really as pretty, as late in the game, the shaky skater whacked a rebound home  (Michalek, Thornton). Michalek had a goal of his own  (Thornton, Carle), and Steve Bernier added one as well  (Marleau, Rivet). Evgeni Nabokov had another strong performance, making 17 saves in his league leading 27th victory.
Not only did the Sharks play winning hockey last night, but more importantly, they won playing Sharks Hockey. Sharks hockey is what GM Doug Wilson designed this team to play. Hard hitting and quick skating all around, strong emphasis on back-checking by the forwards, lots of passing through the neutral zone and dumping and chasing to penetrate the offensive zone and getting guys in front of the net to deflect shots and bang home rebounds and one-timers. Having the best PK in the league and a top 10 PP isn't too shabby either.
Fact is, at the break, the Sharks sit on top of the Pacific Division with 61 points. Dallas also has 61, and Anaheim is right behind with 60, but the Sharks have played 4 fewer games than both the Ducks and Stars. They're top 10 in both sides of the special teams, a necessity for success in the post-season. Goaltending is still elite, and the defense could be considered underrated, since there aren't really any "big-name" guys lining up on the blueline.
The offense is really the only consistently underachieving part of this team, last night's contest was the third consecutive game in which the Sharks couldn't record a shot in the first ten minutes of the contest. For the Sharks to succeed in February, March, April, and beyond, the goal production really needs to pick up. The top line feasted last night, Michalek (1+2) - Thornton (0-3) - Cheechoo (2-0), a sight that will have to continue. When that line can produce, goals from the likes of Bernier, Marleau, Roenick, Pavelski, Mitchell, and the defense can actually be considered secondary scoring, not a threat to score every night, but definitely not forwards to sleep on either.
There is no hockey until Tuesday, when the Sharks will take on the Oilers (6:30). Edmonton has been king of the shootout this year, going 13-3 in the glorified skills competition. When looked at that the Oilers have just 23 wins this season, that puts them at 13 shootout wins, and just 10 regulation victories. Edmo comes to SJ after touring the SouthEast division, where they went 2-3. The Oil lead the season series 1-0, winning the season opener 3-2 in a shootout on 10/4.
This weekend is the All-Star Game in Atlanta. The Skills competition is on at 4 on Saturday, and the game itself is Sunday at 3. All times Pacific. See you guys after the weekend, pending an announcement I'm working on making shortly.
GO SHARKS (Good luck to Evgeni Nabokov and Joe Thornton at the ASG)