Best hockey of the year?

January 9, 2012, 10:53 pm
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SAN JOSE Theyve won four in a row, gained points in 11 of their last 12 games (8-1-3), and taken control of the Pacific Division despite playing fewer games than any of their rivals.

Are the San Jose Sharks playing their best hockey of the year, Joe Thornton?

Yeah, we feel good and we have confidence, said the captain. Our team game is really good, were getting some spectacular saves from Antti Niemi and Thomas Greiss when he comes in. The team has confidence now and were feeling really good about ourselves.

Several times in November and December, head coach Todd McLellan cited the wins during the teams successful 5-1 road trip at the end of October as the Sharks' best play. During that stretch, San Jose beat New Jersey, Boston, Nashville, Detroit and the New York Islanders to right the proverbial ship after an inconsistent start.

McLellan was asked today if the Sharks are playing just as well now as they were then.

I think weve pushed our way back to that level, he said. The thing that I like about our team right now, is the understanding of how the games are evolving or presenting themselves. We talk about the number three a lot, and they are understanding that and buying in, and playing with more details to their game.

We were doing that on that trip in October as well, against some very good teams. Were pushing the envelope to that point again.

Thats not to say things are perfect.

Special teams play is still wildly inconsistent. The Sharks' penalty kill sits in 28th overall in the NHL (75.9 percent) while the power play is 16th (17.6 percent). In the last 19 games, the Sharks are just 8-for-64 with a man advantage (12.5 percent).

McLellan sees both of those units improving, though. The power play has scored a goal in three of the last five games, while the PK has allowed just four goals in the last nine games (23-for-27, 85.1 percent).

The penalty kill has been pretty good. It hasnt been excellent, but its been better than it was, McLellan said. Its not four people out of position, its just one guy that makes an error.

The power play still has some work to do, but it has produced enough for us to be gaining points on most night.

Thornton correctly pointed out that every team has areas in which would like to improve upon.

Every team has their things theyd like to get better at. Some teams just want to get wins, and were just kind of nitpicking, he said. It will get better. Its just a matter of time, I think.

The Sharks will play nine games in 15 days starting on Tuesday in Minnesota, leading up to the NHL All-Star break.

We had our little tough skid there, but it seems like the New Year has been really kind to us, Thornton said. We took care of our home games and played well going to Vancouver on that road trip, too. Were feeling good and confident, and are ready to play some games.

Odds and ends: Colin White returned to practice on Monday from his lower body injury, and will accompany the team on its four-game road trip to Minnesota, Winnipeg, Columbus and Chicago. He and Jim Vandermeer remain on injured reserve. Brent Burns will play his first game in Minnesota on Tuesday night since getting traded to the Sharks from the Wild this summer. If the Florida Panthers beat the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan will serve as a coach at the 2012 NHL All-Star game in Ottawa.