Jason Plank at the Sharks' blog Fear the Fin answered some San Jose questions in preparation for tonight's game:
Q: Give us a scouting report on the Sharks. What's good? What's bad?
A: The Sharks recently broke a five game losing streak with a win against Anaheim on Thursday, and during that span they had a load of trouble getting secondary scoring -- Manny Malhotra has been the only non top-six forward to find the back of the net during the last six games. It was an issue in the playoffs last season, and with Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau accounting for roughly 40% of the team's goals up to this point, there is definite room for improvement from the lower lines.
The blueline is also a concern -- we've had our eye on it since the beginning of the year, and there hasn't been enough consistency amongst the unit as a whole to confidently say that it won't pose some issues for the team moving forward. The loss of Christian Ehrhoff to Vancouver this offseason and Rob Blake's decline in number have hurt the team offensively, which has highlighted the defensive miscues that may have been masked last season with the lack of a premier shutdown defenseman.
The issue with these holes, of course, is the lack of cap space Doug Wilson has to work with. The Sharks are pushed right up against the cap, and don't have a lot of expendable pieces to move that make enough in the salary department. If they move a forward they likely lose a 20+ goal scorer, and if they move a defenseman they risk sacrificing a strong team in the future -- it's really a pick your poison type deal, as all of the assets that would yield a significant return are fairly large pieces to the current puzzle.
The good? San Jose is a Cup contending team, as they always are at this time of the year. Top to bottom this roster could be considered the best San Jose has ever iced.
Q: Talk about Joe Thornton and what kind of season he's having. What makes him so solid?
A: Thornton's a special player who can control a game below the dots-- for all the punishment he takes on a nightly basis from opposing team's shutdown pairings, it's amazing how effective he has managed to be. His vision with the puck is exceptional; coupled with the fact that he has yet to miss a game in a San Jose uniform, that reliability plays a huge part in being able to build a consistently dangerous line around him.
It's no secret that players tend to have breakout goal scoring years when playing with him.
Q: What kind of impact is Dany Heatley having on this team?
A: For all of the perceived baggage Heatley was potentially bringing over from Ottawa, those aspects haven't shown up in the locker room as far as the general fan can tell. However, he's asked out of two teams before, and while I don't envision that being a problem for San Jose as long as they're still a contender, you still hold some reservations in the back of your mind if things do end up going south.
On the ice he's obviously a huge factor, and has provided San Jose with a pure sniper that they've never really had before (Cheechoo's Rocket Richard year being the exception here). McLellan has actually broken Thornton and him up the last two games in order to get Devin Setoguchi going-- it's a short term solution that I don't agree with (Marleau being my pick to play on Pavelski's wing), and while I think the coaching staff will eventually put him back on the top line where he belongs, it's a little confusing.
Q: Fans are interested in former Stars player Manny Malhotra. How is he doing?
A: Malhotra's been a godsend for San Jose, especially after news came out he rejected a four year deal worth two million per year to sign for nearly the league minimum -- while I'm essentially considering him a rental player who, due to the aforementioned cap issues, won't be re-signed next offseason, it's still nice to know that San Jose can attract some high impact free agents in areas of need. The organization has historically had a lot of trouble in that department.
With Manny you're obviously getting a defensive-minded forward first and foremost, and that's a big plus when it comes to reducing the shorthanded minutes of our premier players like Pavelski and Marleau. Toss in the fact that he's been chipping in on the scoresheet and there's no complaints here.
Q: Breakdown the Sharks' special teams for us.
A: The power play has hit a rut in December, and Todd McLellan has described the top unit in the past as, "The Globetrotters." They look good moving the puck, but don't really do much in the way of generating scoring opportunities. San Jose tends to struggle when they try to run everything through Joe Thornton surprisingly, as he's not a shooting threat and will try and force passes into the low slot when the shot from the point isn't clicking. Running it through a guy like Patrick Marleau, who's a much more dynamic stick handler when driving the net, usually yields more positive results. If you shift the attention away from Big Joe he becomes that much more dangerous when threading the needle on touch passes.
The PK has been rock solid. A large part is due to the recent acquisitions of Nichol and Malhotra, along with contributions from some unlikely sources in Heatley and Thornton as well. Pavelski and Marleau have been fixtures on this unit from last year-- when your big guns are as committed to playing on both ends of the ice as those two are, it trickles down the lineup.
Q: Who can the Stars expect to see in goal tonight? Tell us about him.
A: Evgeni Nabokov will be in net tonight, and I'm sure Stars fans are as familiar with him as Sharks fans are as familiar with Marty Turco. He's had a good year thus far, and has managed to reduce the amount of five-hole goals he's given up-- it's been his achilles heel the last two seasons, which isn't all too surprising. Nabokov likes to heavily challenge shooters, and with his increasing age, you can see the reflexes are starting to slide a bit.
He's been getting a heavy workload this year as well. I'm not sure that's an effective gameplan from an assets management standpoint-- Nabby is the likely starter for Team Russia at the Winter Olympics, and with the compressed schedule this season, that workload may begin to show up as we make our way into the last quarter of the year.
Q: Which players should Stars fans be special attention to tonight?
A: I'm sure Stars fans are familiar with the majority of San Jose's roster due to playing them frequently, so I'll go off the board here and say Jason Demers who has played one game against Dallas this season. He was a relative unknown coming into camp that managed to find a way onto the bottom pairing, and models his game off Dan Boyle. Strong puck mover who can skate, and while he runs into trouble occasionally when forcing breakout passes up the middle of the ice, there's some definite improving offensive acumen he brings to the table. That being said, if I'm Crawford I attack that pairing (Kent Huskins is his partner) with the last change at home. They started the season strong, but tailed off around game twenty five or so, resulting in Demers being sent down to the minor league affiliate for two weeks to work on his game.
Jamie McGinn is also a player to watch tonight on the third line, and has all of the tools to become a 25-30 goal scorer down the road. He'll throw his weight around on the forecheck and can cycle the puck, as well as possessing some good hands and a long skating stride.
Q: Injury report?
A: San Jose ran into some injury issues to start the year, but by now the team is largely healthy. Brad Staubitz and Jody Shelley are questionable tonight, so Frazer McLaren will assume the duties of keeping that rascal Steve Ott in check.
Q: Anything else Stars fans should know about the Sharks?
A: Games with Dallas are always tight affairs, and I expect nothing less tonight. What you see is what you get with these division matchups.