I was sitting here trying to think of a creative, clever & witty way to say this. But my head hurts now so instead, I will just say it: The Sharks are playing like crap lately.. They were shut out in LA last night by Jonathan Quick and the Kings in a “we showed up physically but not mentally” type of effort from the boys. This came following two shaky home outings. They beat the Blackhawks 1-0 at home last Wednesday thanks to Antii Niemi’s brilliance and little else. The Sharks may have won the game but they didn’t look cohesive in the slightest. The Blackhawks routinely generated scoring chances and kept the Sharks on their fin heels all night.
Saturday night was supposed to be the big measuring stick. The Vancouver Canucks, who last May vaulted up the “teams Sharks fans hate with a passion” list, were in town for what was supposed to be some payback for the playoff ousting. It didn’t happen as the Canucks won 3-1. The Sharks played a little better than they did against the Blackhawks as they did generate some scoring chances, but Niemi wasn’t sharp and Cory Schneider was. Schneider has outplayed Roberto Luongo this year and with Luongo banged up, Schneider is the starter.. for the time being. The Canucks haven’t fully recovered from losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals at home last year. But they are still a playoff team and when it comes down to it, they will have a say in how the West is won.
This recent stretch of poor play for the Sharks followed a very solid 15 game run which they accumulated 25 of 30 possible points. To put that in perspective, they would finish the year with 137 points if they got 25 of every 30 points available over the 82 game season. Not too shabby. So lets not take this 2 game losing streak too far. They don’t need to peak right now, far from it. In April and May, it won’t really matter what happened in November and December. But what WILL carry over is habits. Both good and bad. They need to develop a habit of going for the jugular more often. They are a ridiculously talented group and Sharks fans know it. Expectations are high. This team has shown the entire NHL they are capable of being the very best. But that requires being at your very best at the very right time. That time is still several months away, but its time to develop better habits right now.
As I have stated many times before, the NHL season is a grind. There will be ups and downs. They went on a really nice run for a few weeks and now they hit the wall a bit. Its time for the coaching staff to get creative. Lately the Sharks attack is looking very average. McLellan continues to tinker with the lines, but this team was built with very specific line combinations in mind. I assure you McLellan doesn’t want to see Torrey Mitchell skating with Joe Thornton, unless they are killing a penalty. And Martin Havlat was not acquired in the offseason to skate on the 3rd line. When you see these things happening, its because the original plan has ceased to work, for now.
On defense, Justin Braun (who was re-assigned to Worcester) is not ready for regular NHL minutes. This is not breaking news. He had a brutal giveaway last night to Ethan Moreau that led to a soft goal on Niemi. Dan Boyle had a nightmare game vs Chicago and overall his season has been a disappointment thus far. At 35, clearly his best years are behind him. But he is the Sharks highest paid defenseman and typically logs the most minutes. If the Sharks are going to win a Stanley Cup, Dan Boyle will need to be a very large part of that. So much of the attack starts with the transition from the defensive end to the ice. They look to Boyle to spark the rush by sending quality passes out of the defensive zone or by just carrying the puck himself. His numbers have dropped off this year and quite simply the Sharks need more from him.
Next chance for the Sharks to get back on track is at home to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night. Even though the Canadiens rarely play in the Bay Area, Habs at Sharks has created some classic games over the years. That is the kickoff to a 4 game homestand that will see the upstart Florida Panthers, “Nostalgia Night” with the Minnesota Wild and then the Sharks BFF, the Dallas Stars. Should make for some compelling hockey games. Oh it just came to me! The Sharks have been playing as ugly as Logan Couture’s mustache lately! Better late than never, story of my life…