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Figuring out the Sharks is no easy task

Figuring out the Sharks is no easy task
figuring-out-the-sharks-is-no-easy-task


Just when you think you’ve got a clue about them, they find a way to surprise. A month ago -- after a Nov. 26 loss to Reebok NHL Premier Jerseys Calgary dropped them to 10-10-4 -- it felt like this might be a crossroads season for the Sharks after a decade of being among the elite contenders in this league. The sense was that last spring’s first-round meltdown to Los Angeles, the ensuing off-ice turmoil and the beginning of a rebuild-on-the-fly would see the Sharks take a step back this season. Well, that’s how it felt around U.S. Thanksgiving, anyway. Since that Nov. 26 loss to Calgary, the Sharks have reeled off nine wins in 10 games heading into Monday night’s big tilt at the rival Anaheim Ducks. The rest of us are left to ponder what the heck we have here with this San Jose squad sitting at 19-11-4 and very much looking playoff-bound. "It's been nice to be under the radar a little bit, but yeah, we have been playing well," Sharks star center Logan Couture told ESPN.com on Monday morning from Anaheim. For starters, Couture said, his team has taken advantage of some home games over the past month. "I think the first thing was getting home. A lot of people didn’t realize that we had 16 of our first 21 games on the road," Couture said. "But we just weren’t playing our game either. We weren’t playing up to our abilities. We got home, we got settled down, we got to practice and over a few days went over a smaller version of training camp with the coaching staff," added Couture, who is tied for the team scoring lead with Joe Thornton at 29 points. "We figured out how we needed to play. We’ve been finding ways to win games, whereas earlier in the season we were finding ways to lose games. Different night, different guy, different ways of winning, it’s been everything. We’re just finding a way [to] win." It’s funny that Couture said that, because that’s exactly what a rival NHL head coach first said in a series of text message exchanges with ESPN.com when asked about the Sharks’ resurgence. "They’re just finding ways to win," said the http://www.officialavalancheonline.com/Red+Ryan+Oreilly+Jersey Western Conference coach. "Not much different with them, maybe a bit more speed on third and fourth lines. But really not much different. Joe Thornton is still a really good player, and so are Couture, [Joe] Pavelski and [Patrick] Marleau." And then in his last text message he added, "Good coach." Todd McLellan, whose job security I questioned a month ago, continues to show why he is one of the better coaches in the NHL. Never mind that he has had the Sharks in the mix every single year since he’s been there. I would suggest that this season might be his most impressive coaching performance of all if he gets them into the playoffs. Why? Well, let’s consider the gong show that was the offseason in terms of the raw, emotional soul searching, maybe finger pointing and ultimately leadership change with the letters being stripped off uniforms. The team continued to get younger, with veterans such as Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart exiting and the payroll going south as younger faces took over roles. That’s a lot to juggle for a coach. That process of getting younger will continue. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson is committed to making this roster even younger next summer, as he rebuilds on the fly after years of contending. He feels it’s time to replenish in some fashion and has been picking up draft picks in trades for almost two years. The hope in the meantime is that the likes of Pavelski, Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, in particular, take more ownership than ever as far as being important voices in the leadership group while still having room for Thornton and Marleau to have roles. The goaltending has been better too. Veteran Antti Niemi, whose No. 1 job was openly questioned before the season, has rebounded after last season's subpar performance. Niemi is sporting a .917 save percentage, while backup Alex Stalock is at .926, although he has started only eight games compared to Niemi’s 24. "Nemo is the hardest-working player on our team," Couture said. "He’s always out working hard before practice. Guys want to play for him. Both our goaltenders this year have been excellent. We have confidence in both of them." So what do we have with these Sharks? Are they http://www.nhlofficial.com/jarome-iginla-jersey-c-1_118_131.html back to being a contender? Or is this just a temporary mirage? This is a team that’s so hard to predict. Nothing like a good test Monday night in Anaheim against the league-leading Ducks to find out more about where they stand. The Sharks have already beaten the Ducks twice this season. "Both times we played Anaheim this year we were coming off losing streaks, so it was kind of like we had something to prove," Couture said. "The roles have maybe reversed where maybe they want to avenge those two losses against us. They may have something to prove even though they’re ahead of us in the standings, and they’re a great hockey team. We’re going to have to be ready for a challenge, that’s for sure. This is a tough building here at Honda Center. Should be fun tonight."

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