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Winding Down, Ramping Up

September 28, 2007, 9:17 PM ET [ Comments]

With their season opener less than a week away, the Sharks have completed the transition from training camp practice to preseason practice. They're still carrying a little extra baggage through tomorrow night's game against Calgary, but the team has begun gearing up for the season, making sure everything's in place for Oct. 4. This morning's session included a lot of work on breakouts and backchecking, and it was a lot cleaner and sharper than the practices we saw at the beginning of training camp.

San Jose rolled out some interesting lines, and an increase in depth from last year's camp has posed some new challenges for the coaching staff. Thornton centered the top line, flanked by Cheechoo and Marleau. It's nothing new at this point, but it's still strange seeing Marleau on the wing, and I really think it limits his effectiveness. Of course, the old joke is an ironing board could put up 20 goals playing with Thornton, but Mark Bell proved that isn't the case. And I think Cheechoo struggled early last season because teams were able to lock on him because Bell couldn't get himself into shooting position, so putting Marleau on the wing does give Joe another passing target, but I think Michalek's better suited for that spot.

Michalek was on the second/third line, matched with Roenick at center and Setoguchi on the right. With the perfect mix of youth and experience, speed and stickhandling, if this line stays together it could do a lot of damage. JR can dish the puck, and both Michalek and Setoguchi are always moving. In a way, each of them might be better suited to playing with Thornton than Cheechoo, who likes to set up and wait for a one-timer, but they'll be dangerous together. For all intents and purposes, Setoguchi's on the team, and he can wire the puck. He's also very good at kicking the puck up to his stick, a very important skill for taking passes on the fly.

Pavelski was centering the other second/third line, with Clowe and Bernier. Those two should provide the muscle, and give Pavelski enough space to set up plays. I'm still not sold on Bernier in a scoring role, especially after a brutal rapid fire drill this morning (Cheechoo aced it, taking passes from Thornton. I mean, it was a thing of absolute beauty), but he's handling the puck well and his skating has improved. Pavelski's an excellent playmaker, and Clowe's an underrated passer who can finish in close. I'd expect this line to produce if they stick together, giving the Sharks a nice unit that can get in on the forecheck and bang people.

Goc centered Grier and Rissmiller on the fourth line, and that group is nothing new. We're still waiting for Goc to produce at a decent rate, but he's strong defensively and doesn't get into trouble with the puck. Grier is the team's most versatile player, and you can line him up anywhere from the first line to the fourth in any situation. He should be able to take on a slightly diminished role this season, focusing on the penalty kill and shutdown situations. Rissmiller has looked really good on the penalty kill, but you always want more physicality from him.

Brown was lined up with Mink and Kaspar today, and while they've been very good the two youngsters will probably be the final camp cuts, starting the season in Worcester. Kaspar wasn't noticeable until drills ended, when he'd smash his stick over the boards or pound a puck off the glass. It must have happened five or six times.

Torrey Mitchell appeared toward the end of practice, skating easily. He'd probably earn a roster spot on most other teams, but his injury has taken him out of the running for now. Still, he should get some good experience in Worcester and the Sharks need a player with his intensity. It's funny, because he looks a lot like Mark Bell but plays a lot like Mark Smith. Kinda the same way I look like Tom Cruise but play like Tom Arnold.

On defense, Ehrhoff was paired with McLaren, and they're looking really good together. I'm expecting a breakout year from Ehrhoff, and he looks to have tamed his shot after suffering from Fulton Reed syndrome early in his career - possessing a massive blast but only hitting the net once out of every five shots.

Vlasic and Murray were paired up and both looked pretty calm playing the puck and moving it out of traffic. From everything I've seen, Murray's the leading candidate for sixth defenseman. He'll still make mistakes, but he controls himself much better than last season and doesn't try running people through the zamboni doors anymore.

Carle was paired with Ozolinsh and I swear they're identical twins out there on the ice. They have almost exactly the same build and stride, so it was hard to tell them apart at times. You can see Ozolinsh has offensive skill, and he was skating well, but he had some trouble keeping the puck in at the blueline and I'm not sure if he's strong enough defensively to take on quality minutes. We'll see how he progresses over the next two weeks though.

Semenov and Davison made up the fourth unit and Semenov was disappointing again. Despite being 6-foot-6 he plays like he's a foot shorter, not taking advantage of his reach and breaking up passing lanes. He doesn't support the puck very well at the line, and just can't keep up with the speed of the game, even in practice. Rivet showed up at the midway point and he's going to make people forget about Hannan this season, I guarantee it.


I'll be doing a running blog from tomorrow night's game, and in the next couple days I'm going to weigh in on all these analysts crowning the Sharks as Cup champs this season. Seriously, everyone from Melrose to the Canadian Press to video game simulations have tagged San Jose as the team to win it all. Is the hype justified? Is this the year? Has anyone heard this song and dance before?

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