The San Jose Sharks were 4-0-0 on the current homestand going into this week and knew that the Anaheim Ducks and Vancouver Canucks would do their best to throw out effective road blocks to slow down team teal. Unfortunately for the Sharks, these road blocks turned into major pot holes as Anaheim Monday night continued their season mastery of team teal. The Ducks 3-2 win was one where the Sharks simply did not execute when they had to, and executed poorly at inopportune times. Wednesday Night, Vancouver took advantage of some early mistakes and the Sharks failure to execute late and eventually won a 3-2 game in OT. The Sharks, though finishing the homestand at 4-1-1, cannot necessarily qualify this homestand as a success when you consider how each of the last two games were lost. In many ways, maybe these games may goes as far as to illustrate how far team teal is from really being a serious cup contender.
The Sharks finish the 2011 portion of the schedule with a mark of 19-11-4 for 42 points. They are currently seeded 3rd in the Western Conference Standings as of this writing, though that is really by a very paper thin margin. Although they currently lead the Pacific Division over L A, Dallas (41 points each), Phoenix (40 points) and Anaheim (26 points), the lead is very shaky at best. Realistically, I did not expect the Sharks to be let’s say 26-4-4 at this time either, but these last two games to me are if nothing else something that should raise a good deal of concern where this team is trending. It’s losses in these two games that in many ways illustrate the weaknesses team teal has, and will seriously need to overcome and address in the 2012 portion of the schedule. This will be critical if the Sharks are going to make a serious run to playing hockey in June and competing for their first ever cup. Right now, that expectation may be a bit lofty, but we shall see what develops as the calander changes.
Recapping the last two games:
Merry Christmas, Anaheim Ducks!!! – This game was simply disgusting. This disgusted me so much, I did not post Tuesday because I was still fuming and frankly too ticked off. As a Sharks fan, I can guarantee you it’s the losses to Anaheim that bother me the most. Especially when you consider that the Ducks are having an off year and went into this game having won only two road games (at Minnesota, and at San Jose). Well, now they’ve won 3 road games, 2 in San Jose. If the Sharks are not bothered about this, they should be. If they are not concerned about this or even slightly embarrassed about this, they should be. If I were Doug Wilson, I’d be irate. If I were Coach McLellan, I’d be irate (and he probably is, even though you wont see that on TV). To me, 0-3 versus the Ducks is unacceptable. That’s 6 potential points in the standings that could make a difference later this season when playoff positioning makes every point count, and at a premium. This could be the difference let’s say between a 2nd seed and a 6th seed. Home ice would be nice, but at 6th your in the playoffs. If you’re 9th, it’s these games you are going to point to.
As for the game, the Ducks won largely because of the Sharks handing the Ducks 2 goals which were both preventable by simply having their heads in the game. Luca Sbisa first period goal 2:27 into the first period seemed to happen almost in slow motion, as the puck was heading towards the net it seemed the Sharks were everywhere on the ice except for where they needed to be. Antti Niemi looked about a surprised as anyone that the puck had disappeared until he realized it was already behind him. The other preventable goal came in the second period where Joe Thornton’s monetary lapse with the puck was all the Ducks Bobby Ryan needed as he seized the loose puck and skated virtually uncontested and drilled a shot that easily beat Niemi and gave Anaheim a 2-1 lead. This was just simply the result of some careless puck handling that ultimately would be a difference maker in the game.
Jamie McGinn would later bring the Sharks even at 2-2 with his 8th goal of the season before the Ducks Andrew Cogliano score what would prove to be the game winner late in the second period. In the third period, it was a horror show all too familiar to the Sharks and their fans, better know to some as the “Jonas Hiller Show”. Hiller was on top of his game for most of the evening and had his best period when it mattered the most, in the third period. Hiller stopped all 18 shots as the Sharks played what was probably their most frustrating period of the season (if not their most frustrating game of the season). Hiller stopped 36 shots for the evening, and the Ducks if nothing else this season left the building knowing at least for the moment that they own team teal. Joe Pavelski scored his 15th goal of the year for the Sharks in the first period.
On the whole, the way the Sharks lost this game, especially when you consider who was in net for the Ducks, you have to write this game up as one the Sharks simply gave away. Better puck handing and on ice awareness early in the game, and chances are this is a completely different story. Instead, the Ducks celebrated Christmas this year on December 26th at the Sharks expense. Bah Humbug!!!
Can’t close out Canucks – Wednesday Night, the Sharks did play a better overall game but again still came up almost completely empty by not executing two excellent power play opportunities that could not be better chances if they had asked for them. Execution on the power play at times has been a major achilles for team teal, and as the season goes on this is simply going to have to improve, period. As for the game, it was very well played and the Sharks I feel did improve marketably in comparison to their first meeting with the Canucks last month, a 3-2 loss in regulation to the defending Western Conference Champions.
The Sharks fell behind 2-0 a little ways into the second period, however the team kept battling and were eventually rewarded for their efforts with goals from Logan Couture (his 16th of the season), and a later power play goal from J Thornton (his 7th on the season). Vancouver had jumped out to an early lead on a first period goal from Daniel Sedin, and a second period power play goal by Ryan Kesler, made possible by Brent Burns second penalty of the evening. Niemi in the game would also make one if his best saves of the season, stopping a breakaway chance by that pesky Sedin brother, Daniel. This clearly was the Sharks highlight of the night.
Honestly I felt some of the officiating was very poor too. Especially as the game got along in the third period, things got to the point it was getting “out of hand”. For a moment I thought I was watching a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. R Kesler’s open ice tackle of J McGinn in the final period, though highly illegal in the NHL may get Kesler an NFL tryout next year. This happened at the 14:35 mark of the third period. Both Kesler and McGinn were penalized, McGinn for roughing and Kesler for unsportsman like conduct, each good for 2 minutes in the box.
Finally, the would Sharks would get their window to win the game. It came just a monent after Kesler and McGinn where shown the box when the Canucks D Sedin was called for high sticking. The Sharks would have a golden opportunity with a 4 of 3 power play advantage for the next 1:07. However, instead of this being a place where they Sharks could take the lead and control of the game, this turned out to be probably one of the worst executions of a 4 on 3 advantage you’ll see. The Sharks lost the faceoff, and in the entire 1:07 maybe got one shot on Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. The Sharks spent the rest of the time playing “fetch”, or watching the Canucks control the puck and allowed Vancouver one shot on Niemi shorthanded. Out of the entire 1:07, the Sharks may have had control of the puck somewhere between 15 to 20 seconds at maximum. As the 4 on 3 advantage expired, the Sharks would continue to fail at controlling the puck and Vancouver easily killed of the remainder of this penalty. With 1:37 remaining, the Sharks got another power play opportunity when the Canucks Kevin Bieksa was called for high sticking. Another power play for the Sharks…and as it turned out another easy penalty kill for the Canucks even as :23 of the power play carried over into the overtime period.
In the overtime period the Canucks knew that they gave the Sharks a point in the standings, but also knew they had gotten a reprieve and a new lease on life. The Canucks would evenutally take the game in the OT period as Andrew Ebbett, who had 3 goals all season coming into the game, picked the right time to get his fourth. From just past the blue line K Bieksa drilled a slapshot that got past Niemi as he was screened out by Ebbetts, who tipped the puck underneath Niemi five-hole. Vancouver had the win, and the Sharks were just left with one point in the standings and the empty feeling of “what could have been” or “might have been.” R Luongo was strong in net for the Canucks making all 16 saves as the Sharks outshot Vancouver 16-4 in the third period, but had nothing else to show for it.
“2011″ Portion of The Season – The Sharks have played 34 games, so in just a mere seven games they will be at the half way point of the season (believe it or not). In those 34 games, 21 have been at the Tank. In 21 home games, the Sharks have been 12-7-2, and if you factor in the OT games as losses they are actually 12-9 at home. I’m not trying to be “nit picky” in any way here, but the Sharks simply have not taken care of business at home so far this season. Having your arch rival win two games in your barn where they have won only three total road games all year is somewhat embarrassing, not only to the team but honestly to the organization. Both these games, particularly the game on Monday was just inexcusable. If the Sharks want to be a serious player for the Stanley Cup this year, their level of play and their ability to win on home ice must pick up and improve greatly. This is going to be critical going forward. Losing home games to a team that is 3-10-5 (3-15) on the road does not look good on the resume, and it never will. If the Ducks can beat you, who can’t?
If I had to grade this team right now, I would only give them a “C” grade, passing but not really impressive per see. The Sharks have had a history of being a strong road team, and with 28 of their 48 games remaining being on the road, they will need to be one of the NHL’s best road teams in the 2012 portion of this season’s schedule. They are 7-4-2 on the road, and the Sharks will need to be true road warriors if they want to crack the top 3 in the Western Conference. Otherwise, they may be lucky to finish in the top eight. 8th place still makes the playoffs, but usually does not bode well for a long post season run.
However, first things first, let’s see what happens over the remaining 48 regular season games first…
Why So Critical King Shark? – It’s simple, it’s because I CARE!!! I am a Sharks fan, and I want to see this team win. I know this team is better than what they have shown. Though I am a Sharks fan, I also am a product of “tough love”. If I’m not critical when I need to be, than I’m not being honest with myself, the team, organization or the readers here. That’s why…
GO SHARKS!!! Pick Up the Slack in 2012!!!
The King Shark
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