The Sharks Are Dominating; We Learn Why

↵Over the weekend, my hometown Washington Capitals took a swing out to the West Coast for the first time in a couple of seasons. While the trip started on a high note with a 6-4 win over Anaheim on Wednesday night, the Caps followed that performance with a 5-2 loss to the Kings in Los Angeles on Thursday and a 7-2 thrashing in San Jose from the Sharks on Saturday. But while the loss in L.A. was understandable since it came just one night after a game against one of the most physical teams in the league, the loss to the Sharks was a different kind of animal. ↵

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↵The fact is, the Sharks are something of a terrifying combination of the last two Stanley Cup champs. Thanks to playing in the Pacific Division alongside 2007 champ Anaheim, the Sharks already have the sort of physical lineup needed to survive playing the Ducks six times per year. And now, thanks to new head coach Todd McLellan, a former assistant coach under Mike Babcock in Detroit, the Sharks have gotten quite the brain transplant behind the bench as well. Thus far under McLellan, the Sharks have compiled a 17-3-1 record, good for tops in the entire league, while scoring more goals (80) than anyone else. ↵

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↵When it comes to the skinny on the Sharks, the person I trust more than any other is Jon Swenson of Sharkspage, a man who has been blogging and taking great NHL action photos since God was young. The following is a transcript of an email conversation we had last week ahead of the Caps-Sharks game on Saturday. It's been edited for length. ↵

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↵TSB: Which one player benefited the most from the departure of Ron Wilson as head coach? ↵

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↵Swenson: I would have to say two players have benefited the most, Christian Ehrhoff and Devin Setoguchi. I am not sure under Ron Wilson Devin Setoguchi would have been used alongside Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton on the top line. Christian Ehrhoff made a concerted effort to improve his defensive game last season under Wilson. This year he has been effective on both sides of the ice, with the occasional mistake. ↵

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↵The difference is that players can make mistakes under new head coach Todd McLellan, but his process of creating a consistent offensive attack allows for mistakes as long as you are taking the right chances. McLellan said that offense needs to be taught, pucks need to be dumped in with a plan of how to retrieve them [and] creating traffic in front of goalies is key because most NHL goalies are going to stop anything they can see. ↵

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↵TSB: Devin Setoguchi has certainly made a name for himself so far. Why has he gotten so good, so fast? ↵

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↵Swenson: I think the biggest factors are confidence from the coach, instead of bouncing from the NHL and AHL he is with the Sharks to stay, and being put on the top line at the start of the season with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau ... Setoguchi has skill [and] speed and can play a physical game to take advantage of it. His shot has always been accurate and very heavy. ↵

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↵McLellan mixed and matched lines and prospects during the preseason to get a sense of the talent at his disposal. Game after game, Setoguchi skated like he was shot out of a cannon. During a preseason game against Phoenix, he created several breakaway scoring chances, and seemed to have one more gear than any other player on the ice. It might have been that game that cemented him on the top line with Marleau and Thornton. ↵

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↵TSB: I don't think you can know the whole story about the Sharks without talking about the new additions on the blue line. What's different this year? ↵

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↵Swenson: On the power play, I think you have to talk about the additions of Rob Blake and Dan Boyle. The power play struggled to click early, registering only 3 goals on 25 opportunities in the first 5 games (12%). The Sharks were deadly effective 5-on-5, so it was an irritation more than a major issue. ↵

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↵The biggest impact Blake and Boyle have had is simply shooting the puck, and shooting it on net and often. The shots are getting through traffic, which was a problem early last season. Both have impacted the quick transition up ice, and allowed the power play to mix it up a little from just setting up with Thornton on the half boards. Blake and Boyle are also right-shooting defenseman. Last year Rivet was the only right-shooting defenseman, so having two instead of one adds a little flexibility. ↵

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↵TSB: What about the two young holdovers, Christian Ehrhoff and Marc-Edouard Vlasic? ↵

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↵Swenson: Ehrhoff and Vlasic have also received a lot of power play time on the point, and if Ehrhoff was having this type of season on the East Coast or in Canada, he would be the talk of the league. Ehrhoff and Douglas Murray were my two choices for most improved defensively last season. ↵

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↵Ehrhoff gets it done with speed, anticipation, and an active stick. Murray was effective defensively by using solid positioning and simple but smart plays with the puck in his own zone. His gigantic 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame also makes him good at clearing bodies from the crease, which is important now that Kyle McLaren is no longer on the NHL roster. ↵

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↵Vlasic may be the best defensive defensman on the team this season, but he is an intelligent and skilled player who still has a lot of upside. I think he can do whatever the coach asks him, and right now it is defense. There is a reason Patrick Roy is bitter Vlasic left his junior team for the NHL. ↵

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↵TSB: I know that Evgeni Nabokov is coming off an injury, but it's impossible to notice that Brian Boucher has played lights out in his place. Is there a goalie controversy in San Jose? ↵

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↵Swenson: I don't think there will be a goaltending controversy in San Jose this season. As goes Nabokov, so go the Sharks this season. Boucher has been playing very well, but I saw him a couple of games after his five-game shutout streak a few years ago, and he was like a vacuum cleaner sucking up any puck that traveled near him. ↵

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↵The more games he plays, the sharper he will get, but down the stretch run I think he will be used on back-to-back nights, to break up long road trips, or to give Nabokov days off. Nabokov does not need another 77-start season. He likes to play as many games as possible, but the Sharks need him fresh for the playoffs. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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