Updated Feb. 7
Don't look now, but the San Jose Sharks are closing in fast on the Pacific Division lead these days.
Maybe that shouldn't be surprising because the Sharks were widely predicted to be there when the season began. But less than a month ago, the Sharks were still outside the playoff line and bringing up the rear in the Pacific to boot,
Since then, the Sharks have gone eight games without a loss, with Antti Niemi, the much-maligned goalie who only won a Stanley Cup in Chicago last spring, giving them some very solid work. He's had to because partner Antero Niittymaki has been sidelined, forcing the Sharks to have five different backups on the bench in the last seven games.
Meanwhile, the Sharks are in the middle of a long seven-game road trip they kicked off with impressive wins in Anaheim and Boston. With the upstart Dallas Stars coming a little more back to earth with each passing game, San Jose could be back in the division lead for its return home next week.
The interesting thing about the Sharks awakening, and their season overall, is that core players Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley are all having campaigns that could be described as no more than respectable. In fact rookie Logan Couture has been the team's biggest scoring star, but of late the Sharks have been finding ways of winning games with grit rather than necessarily through skill.
San Jose has been one of the league's elite regular-season teams since the lockout, and appeared ready to take a big step this season after advancing to the Western Conference finals last spring.
The Sharks wanted a change in goal, but otherwise kept together much of last year's roster, although losing Rob Blake to retirement and Manny Malhotra to free agency had more of an impact than they imagined, at least at the outset of the season. But lately the Sharks have served notice they are still a team to be reckoned with.
The rankings through the Super Bowl: