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Reduce Heat, Simmer

There may be some stirring involved for this last stage, but the final weeks of the regular season seem like the last stage of any recipe.  You have assembled the ingredients, chopped, ground, soaked, tenderized, whatever you do before you lower the heat and leave it to simmer.  I can’t cook to save my life but I have read enough recipes to know that this is pretty much the end.  Next stage: serve.

The Flyers play the Islanders today, the Sharks play the Coyotes.  Familiar foes all.  I’m cranky with the Flyers so I will talk about the Sharks first.  I may not talk about the Flyers at all.

The Sharks have been mostly playing better than before, but they dropped the bar pretty low earlier in the season.  My perspective may be skewed.  They lost to the Kings but the Kings are pretty frantic right now and the Sharks had won four in a row before that.  Yes, the Sharks had trouble getting their act together in the first period but they did come back with confidence.  That should give Sharks fans hope.

The Sharks have been fighting the “underachiever” label for some time.  They are reputed to be highly talented, yet lacking inspiration.  This assessment is unfair: they have some shortcomings, and they are not entirely uninspired.  They do not have all the blue line weapons that the top ranking teams have.  They are not awful but the team is at a disadvantage there.

So far, their forwards have been able to compensate. How far that recipe can take them is unclear.  At the very least, they need their forward lines firing on all cylinders.  Heatley looks to be warming up.  From my limited perspective, his game has improved over the last month.  I see him making far fewer mistakes, and being much more aggressive in general.  There’s life there.  Until the last game, Thornton was on a roll the likes of which I had not seen from him this season.  As a group, the Sharks are performing better.

Wallin was not at his best in the last game.  I fear this is because he was asked to play at the last minute when Vlasic could not.  I worry that he is not entirely recovered from his injury.  That could hurt the team down the road.  Wallin may not be one of the team’s best defenseman but he is not so bad as fans say.  He works hard, he blocks shots, he doesn’t skimp.  The team is worse off without him available, except in one regard: Braun.  Because Wallin was out, Braun played a lot and got a chance to find his footing with the team.  He will be a tremendous asset in the long run.

The Sharks would do well to win this game.  It will give them a more secure position in the top of the standings.  Home ice is still on the line, and a really dizzying losing streak could hurt them badly.  So there is something at stake here.

The Coyotes always have a little drama up their sleeve.  Their ownership and location and future in general hangs over their heads just as it did last year.  But, like last year, they play anyway and have found more success than you expect from a team that is struggling to secure a home.  As for their position in the standings, they are only 2 points behind the Sharks, sitting in 4th.  That could be less comfortable than they like.  Or they could feel even more strongly than that:

Harumph.

To me, this is a “prove it” game for the Sharks.  Win it just because.  The Sharks and the Coyotes play twice more after this.  No reason to start losing to them now.

And the Flyers?  Except for Bob, I’m still just cranky with all of them.  I get it, the Flyers can be just as fickle as their brothers in teal.  Point taken.  Now go back to being the Flyers!  They should be able to blow the Islanders out to the tune of 7-0, but I won’t hope for that.  Win it, dammit.  Just win.

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