At the end of the 2009 calendar year, the San Jose Sharks reached the halfway point of the season. In the last month alone, they had the season's longest losing and winning streaks.
An inconsistent year? Not really.
Throughout most of the season, the Sharks have been the top team in the division and battling Chicago for the top record in the conference. That battle distinguishes this season from last. It is also indicative of it.
This season, the Sharks have played most of their early games on the road--22 of 41 in the 2009 portion of the calendar year, but 18 of the first 28. Last year, 28 of their first 49 games were at home (21 of the first 41).
Last season, the Sharks had among the fewest games played through the All Star break. As a result, they looked worn down by the playoffs coming off a stretch of 33 games in 65 days that included two trips to the East Coast in a 6-3-4 February. Though January 2, only five teams played more games than San Jose--all by just one.
Statistically, their success has come much differently than it did last season, too.
In 2008-09, they outshot their opponents in almost every game en route to the highest shot differential in the league. Their dominance during regular season games seemed to leave them ill-prepared for the struggle of the post-season.
Through New Year's Eve, they were actually giving up more shots than they were getting, but gritting out wins. They are still balanced, being in the top 10 in scoring (No. 2), defense (No. 8), power play (No. 9), penalty kill (No. 2), and faceoffs (No. 1).
But last season, the power play generated a much higher percentage of their offence than this year, and their skill level allowed them to win without playing a 60-minute game. While they have gotten away with that from time-to-time this year, it has much more often bitten them, leading to fewer of those games.
Hopefully, this has led to a team better prepared for when it counts.
Another thing that may help is that the Sharks have an NHL-high eight players participating in the Olympics. Joe Pavelski will play for Team USA, Thomas Greiss for Team Germany, Evgeni Nabokov for Team Russia, and Douglas Murray for Team Sweden. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, and Dan Boyle will play for Team Canada.
While Germany does not figure to even make the medal round, Teams USA and Sweden have a good shot at a medal and Russia and Canada are expected to play for the gold. That kind of intense competition should prepare the Sharks more than wear them down.
With Canada rotating four lines, the Canadian teammates are not likely to see as much playing time as they would playing games for the Sharks, actually reducing fatigue in the short term. The extra games played over two weeks, especially in less physical Olympic play (one element missing to prepare them for the playoffs), should have a negligible long-term affect.
Murray does not figure to get as much time as Lidstrom, Ohlund, Kronwall, or probably even Johnny Oduya on the blue line for the Swedes. Pavelski already missed time earlier this year and should be able to handle several more games.
For the goalies, the playing time will be an advantage: Nabokov will actually get more games off in favor of Ilya Bryzgalov and Thomas Greiss more playing time to get himself ready if called upon.
And of course, other teams will also have players in for extra games.
All of this speaks well of where the Sharks stand at the season's midpoint, but only time will tell...there were many "different" things to hang our hat on last season to believe it would end differently than the rest, too.