In his first full NHL season, San Jose Sharks right wing Devin Setoguchi has established himself as a formidable offensive force for the league's top team.
Before the start of the 2008-09 season, first-year Sharks coach Todd McLellan, a former assistant coach for the Detroit Red Wings, opted to put Setoguchi on the team's first line alongside two standout veterans — Joe Thornton, a center, and left wing Patrick Marleau, the captain.
The move paid off.
The Sharks went 9-0-1 over their first 10 home games at HP Pavilion, which is affectionately referred to as the Shark Tank. They went 32-5-4 at home this season. And they wrap up the regular season with a road game against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.
San Jose (53-16-11) has earned 117 points and will enter the playoffs as one of the favorites to capture Lord Stanley's Cup.
Detroit, the reigning champion, is a legitimate contender again, possibly the team the Sharks will meet in the Western Conference finals if both teams advance to the penultimate round of the playoffs.
According to Setoguchi, the Sharks ought to keep the same approach they've had since Day One.
Key contributor: San Jose right wing Devin Setoguchi has 30 goals and 33 assists in his first full NHL season. The Sharks lead the league in points (117). SAN JOSE SHARKS
"I think we've got to keep going and doing the little things right," he told The Japan Times by telephone from San Jose, Calif., before a recent morning practice.
"We need to continue to work as hard as we can in every game. If we work hard, our skills will take over."
Exhibit A: The Sharks are 6-3-1 over their past 10 games.
Setoguchi, who turned 22 on New Year's Day, is No. 3 on the team in points, with 30 goals and 33 assists in 80 games. He has a respectable plus-17 rating, 10 power-play goals and three shorthanded tallies.
Thornton leads the team with 85 points (25 goals, 60 assists), while Marleau has 37 goals and 33 assists.
Overall, the Taber, Alberta, product is pleased with his productivity this season.
"When I am playing my best," he said. "I am using my speed as much as I possibly can to get in and out of spots to get to loose pucks. I think I've got a good shot as well. I key on it as much as I can during a game."
McLellan described Setoguchi's shooting skills as extraordinary.
"He's quick," McLellan told NHL.com. "Where he's good is he's tenacious. And he releases the puck. He's prepared to shoot it all the time, which when you put a young player on a line with two dominant bodies like Joe and Patty, a lot of times they're dishing it off and not prepared to take the puck and go with it. . . . They want him to shoot. So it works well for him and he's learned how to use that."
That's been evident all season. In the season's first 40 games, Setoguchi had 19 goals and 21 assists. Over the past 10 games, he has four goals and three assists — solid numbers — and a good sign with the playoffs just around the corner.
Setoguchi has also learned the value of paying attention to details during pregame meetings.
"We always do a goalie report before every game," was the way Setoguchi described a key element of those meetings.
He added: "So we kind of know what to expect before every game. In a game, it happens so quickly, so you have to read the goalie and get the shot off as quick as possible."
I asked Setoguchi to describe the thought process behind taking a shot, and he blurted out these words: "It's a spur-of-the moment (thing) during the game. You've got to make it count."
So who's the toughest goalie you've ever played against?