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Uh Oh, Sharks Hot Heading Toward Another Break

Jan 26, 2011 – 3:15 PM
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Susan Slusser

Susan Slusser %BloggerTitle%

The last time San Jose really got its act together was in late December, when the Sharks won four in a row going into the Christmas break.

All it took to throw the team off again was that 48 hours off the ice. The Sharks lost eight of the next 10 after Christmas.

So now, with the All-Star break almost at hand, San Jose is finally back on track, with four wins in a row going into Wednesday night's game at Los Angeles. The Sharks are one point out of a playoff spot, with 55 points, and the Kings, also having a head-scratching season, have 53 points and sit in 11th place.

It's the break, though, that might loom larger for the Sharks than Los Angeles and its good defense. San Jose does not want to go flat again -- another bad few weeks, and the playoffs might be receding from sight.

"We don't go back to that," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said of the last post-break flop. "We're not getting too confident. I don't think you have to worry about that. That's not going to happen."

How have the Sharks managed to rev up again after a six-game losing streak that dropped them down the Western Conference ranks? Two new additions, Ben Eager and Kyle Wellwood, have helped, giving coach Todd McLellan some different options, and the mini-shakeup provided a little extra energy. Rookie Logan Couture, who has 22 goals, is providing firepower while the big names (Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton) try to get rolling with some consistency. Devin Setoguchi is beginning to contribute more.

But Boyle, who along with Ryane Clowe had been critical of the team's effort level some nights in the first half, believes that this recent stretch of success has one primary cause. "It started with work, and it started even before we started winning games," Boyle said. "Even in the last couple of losses, the work was there. There's different things going on -- the forwards have done a great job of being more responsible defensively, so credit to them, and that's also created a little more offensively."

Boyle also mentioned that the Sharks have been more aggressive lately, they haven't given up as many odd-man rushes -- and that goaltender Antti Niemi has been playing very well, which has been extra important with second goalie Antero Niittymaki out with a lower-body injury. Niemi has won four starts in a row.

San Jose has won two of three previous meetings with Los Angeles this season, and four of the past five overall, plus Clowe is expected back after missing four games in a row with a lower-body injury.

"At this point, it doesn't matter who we're playing, if we play the way we have been, I like our chances most nights."
-- Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle
"At this point, it doesn't matter who we're playing, if we play the way we have been, I like our chances most nights," Boyle said. "It's not pretty when you watch the board and you're out of the playoffs. It's a constant reminder we have a lot of work ahead of us."

There's a popular theory around San Jose that perhaps the team's struggles -- as opposed to the Sharks' usual cruise through the West -- might help them down the stretch and into the playoffs.

"I'm told that all the time, and quite frankly, when you're in the middle of it, it doesn't make you feel real good," McLellan said. "You don't want to be struggling, you want to do what you're supposed to be doing. But ultimately, the test will be at the end of the year. We have got to find a way to qualify, and if all our struggles allow us to be a better team, so be it."
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