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Just like the shortened season, which arrived as a pleasant surprise, the unexpected has unfolded since the Sharks kicked off their campaign in late January. Here are the most pleasing to San Jose's fans:
1) Brent Burns is a top-line forward:
In early March, the Sharks remained desperate for goals and wins. When Brent Burns returned from a recurring lower-body injury, head coach Todd McLellan made the gutsy call to move the defenseman back up front, where he began his NHL career. In 11 games as a forward, Burns has 12 points, and he's probably not going back to the blue-line for the remaineder of the season. Nobody necessarily saw this one coming, but nobody is complaining, either.
2) Sharks PK goes from 29th to 3rd:
Maybe this shouldn't be considered a "surprise" considering the Sharks completely restructured their coaching staff and offseason priorities around fixing the penalty kill. But let's be honest, sometimes work and effort does not equate to results. In this case, however, it certainly has. San Jose has not allowed a power play goal in the last six games, and they have consistently hovered in the Top 5 for PK percentage across the league. The Sharks completely eliminated their biggest flaw from a year ago.
3) Matt Irwin was NHL-ready on his first try:
This is not considered a "surprise" as an insult to Irwin's skills or San Jose's development program. It's just that often times, younger players need several call-ups to the big club before they are truly ready to stick in the NHL. In the case of Irwin, solidity and maturity were revealed in his first NHL games this season with the Sharks. Ever since, he's been second in goals among defensemen and a solid partner to the ever-steady Dan Boyle. Matt Irwin was just rewarded with a two-year contract extension, and it's pretty clear at this pace, he's not going back to the minors anytime soon.
4) Raffi Torres is a Shark:
He might fall in the same category as Chris Pronger and Brian Campbell for Sharks fans, but the bottom line is that Raffi Torres now wears No. 13 in teal. Get used to it. Torres is the postseason player who went after Milan Michalek's head in 2006, and who separated Joe Thornton's shoulder in 2011. He is also the player in a seven-game series that you wish was on your team, instead of facing it. Two years ago in particular, I heard a lot of feedback from Sharks fans about acquiring a player "like Raffi Torres." Forget that dilemma. It's been a long time since the Sharks have dressed a player who put straight-up fear into the opponents' dressing room. If all works well, that's exactly what Torres will provide.
5) Losing streaks haven't ended contention:
Everything is magnified in a shortened season, including the importance of momentum. If I told you before the schedule began that Sharks would lose 10 of 12 games at one point, and then seven of nine, you probably wouldn't have held much hope for the postseason. Instead, the Sharks are precisely 75 percent complete with their campaign, and are only one point shy of a home-ice playoff position. Who would have thought that win streaks of seven, and six (and counting), would have balanced out the fate of San Jose?