My Two Cents: Will The Real Sharks Please Stand Up?; Blackhawks, Ducks Take Control in West...

My Two Cents for February 17th:

Feb 15, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; San Jose Sharks left wing Tim Kennedy (46) is congratulated for scoring during the second period against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Fast Start and a Faster Fall- Realistically, nobody in their right mind thought the San Jose Sharks were going to go 48-0-0 even with their seven game winning streak to start the season. In those first seven games, the Sharks had 29 goals, nine of which were scored by Patrick Marleau who was on fire for the season’s first five games. Joe Thornton was dishing out assist faster than M & M’s could crank out everyone’s favorite chocolate candy. Joe Pavelski was lighting up the lamp. Logan Couture was burying picks left, right and center. Douglas Murray was the “Crankshaft” again. Ryane Clowe and Adam Burish were two people you would not run up against in a dark alley unless they were on your side. Antti Niemi saw the puck like it was a beach ball, as did Thomas Greiss. The Sharks power play was clicking. Team Teal also had one of the best if not the best penalty kill units in the NHL. We Sharks fans were all anticipating a possible day in late June where the ultimate prize would land at the Shark Tank, and we would all get to boo Commissioner Gary Bettman in unison. It looked great, sounded great and felt great. Sadly, all of this and the hope that went along with it had as much of a shelf life as unrefrigerated milk. Just as the case with old milk, the Sharks season after their 7-0-0 start went sour quickly. The Sharks went from the top of the TSN power rankings to a team that will certainly be lucky to even make the post season, let alone last very long if they even got there in the first place. The Sharks have dropped their last seven games since winning their first seven. It appears the team teal has no real answers as to what’s going on.

What has happened to the Sharks?- That depends on who you ask. Some will call it a team wide slump, and they certainly would be correct. It certainly is that, and a bad slump at that. Sure, a few players such as Dan Boyle, Andrew Desjardins, Scott Gomez and Brent Burns can be excused for having to deal with a flu bug. Even with this, if a team is smart they will isolate those players for a couple of days to keep the bug from spreading throughout the entire team. However, that at best accounts for a very small percentage of what has gone on over the last seven games where the Sharks have gone 0-4-3, gaining a mere three points out of 14 possible. While the Sharks slide has gone on, the Sharks have gone from leading the arch rival Anaheim Ducks in the standings by five points on January 29th (12-7) to falling behind by six (23-17) since that day in the Pacific Division. The winner of the division is guaranteed a top three seeding in the Western Conference playoffs while the remaining teams jockey hard for seeds 4th through 8th.

The Sharks have scored a grand total of eight goals in their last seven games, with three coming in one period. Doing the math, that means out of their last 21 periods played (not counting overtime), the Sharks have scored in only six of them. The power play has gone from being ice cold to being basically non-existent, having scored twice in their last 42 tries. On the active roster 15 players have tallied three points or less. Since starting the season with nine goals in the seasons first five games, Marleau has scored just once in the last nine games, the Sharks first goal in a 6-2 drubbing to the Blue Jackets in Columbus last Monday. Niemi in all truth has done his job. In one of the odder statistics you may ever see in hockey, Niemi was credited for two regulation shutouts and was still the losing goalie. If anything, Niemi at this point has earned combat pay in addition to his annual salary.

February 11, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; San Jose Sharks center James Sheppard (15) fires a shot on net as Columbus Blue Jackets center Mark Letestu (10) tries to knock the puck away at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

During the seven game slide, four of the Sharks losses were by one goal. The problem though is the team has lost it’s scoring touch and almost never plays with any sense of urgency. The Sharks have been outplayed, out-skated and outworked in all but maybe two or three of these last seven games. The better teams such as Chicago have been able to identify holes the Sharks have and had no trouble exposing them. Teams at the same caliber that the Blackhawks are will also be able to exploit the Sharks shortcomings unless Head Coach Todd McLellan and his staff can find ways to repair these problems in a very short while. Keep in mind that the Sharks are not working with 82 games this season, just 48 and as of now have 34 remaining in what basically is a sprint to the post season. The Sharks certainly do have time to get their ship righted. However, that has to start now if they have any serious aspirations about making the post season, let alone making any kind of a post season run once (if) they get there. Either “The Real Sharks” have to stand up now or forever be seated. That is unless of course they have already stood up. If so, this season as short as it is could be extremely tough to watch for most Sharks fans.

Changing and shuffling lines from game to game could work, however everyone would have to be on the same page and leave their ego’s at the door. This would also require players regardless of their propensity to score be able to co-exist at least on the top two lines of not three. The reason I mention this is just looking at the past seven games much of the lines have remained the same and are only netting the same results each time. The goal here isn’t to promote or demote anyone, it’s to get everyone used to playing with one another so everyone at least is on the same page. The one thing that has been consistent despite the losing streak has been the Sharks penalty kill. Yes, they have given up three goals in the last three games, however they are also responsible for at least three of the seven Sharks wins so far this season. The help of Assistant Coach Larry Robinson has been largely responsible for the Sharks penalty killing success. Perhaps the Sharks coaching staff including McLellan should tap into Robinson’s expertise and get his thoughts as to what he has seen and what he feels would work best for the rest of the team. It certainly cannot hurt the team teal to try it and it may be what is needed to ultimately save their shortened season from ending on April 27th. Robinson in his career has been involved with several Stanley Cup winning teams and knows what it takes to have a team of that caliber. He will say things not everyone is going to like. However Robinson has got more years of hockey experience than some players have years of life experience.

February, just as last year has so far been brutal for the Sharks who have not won a game so far this month. The Sharks after a three day breather head back on the road to take on the Blues in St.Louis this Tuesday night. The Blues last year came out of nowhere to finish a strong campaign as the #2 seeded team in the Western Conference. St Louis owned the Sharks winning eight of the nine meetings counting a four games to one rout on the opening round of last years playoffs. The Sharks then return to Chicago for another game with the Blackhawks this next Friday night before finishing this current road trip in Dallas against the Stars on Saturday night. Last February the Sharks season and their ultimate fate was determined in part from a 2-6-1 nine game road trip. The only good news for the Sharks going forward is that the SAP Tennis Tournament will leave HP Pavilion after this year, giving the Sharks one less headache to deal with in the future come February. The bottom line as far as the Sharks are concerned is simply what this seven game slide may have revealed is that there are just way too many holes and the team has started to very slowly decline. The Sharks are still and will be competitive, just not for a Stanley Cup anymore. The talent level is there, but it’s also very easily matched by at least five or six teams in the Western Conference. The championship opportunity is gone baring a 180 change in what the Sharks do philosophically. I’m not looking for that to happen, certainly not under this ownership group.

Feb 12, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Patrick Sharp (10) battles for the position with Anaheim Ducks right wing Corey Perry (10) during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Western Conference Race Early Returns- Right now if I had to go to Las Vegas and place a bet on who I thought would be in the Western Conference Finals I would have to go with Chicago versus Anaheim. Both teams are not only hot out of the gate (Chicago with 27 points, Anaheim with 23), they at least from my standpoint clearly the two best teams in the west, with the third and fourth best teams (Vancouver and Detroit) not really close to these two teams. The Blackhawks have been solid and have jelled over the last two season with new editions to go along with the established players Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and company. The Ducks behind the motivation that this could be Teemu Selanne’s last ride (though I doubt it is) have very quietly become very good and have the potential to dominate most teams somewhat handily. This is tough to say with the Ducks being the Sharks arch rival and so forth, but Anaheim has just gotten better and has possibly the best one-two punch in goal with Jonas Hiller and new comer Viktor Fasth. The Ducks are a very difficult team to score on, and even a more difficult team to keep off of the scoreboard. You may not know some of the players on the roster, but they can all score and skate with anyone in the league. This is a team that if they keep going the way they are could be in line for their second cup in six years.

What about the Los Angeles Kings? They are a good team too and clearly are still trying to shake off the cobwebs of a Stanley Cup hang over. They will make the post season and do well simply because of their experience and that they are too good not to make it. They could go far too however the Blackhawks and Ducks are two very loaded teams that will be tough to knock off if they keep the pace that they are on. If the Sharks want to be at the level that the Blackhawks and Ducks are at right now, they have a ton of work to do and not much time to do it. It could be that a major shake up may be needed if all else fails with team teal. Right now, enough things are failing with the Sharks as they have dropped off considerably in a span of seven games. The Blackhawks, Ducks and Kings right now are too much for them, and will be too much for most teams in the Western Conference. The Sharks looked Friday as if they barely belonged on the same ice with Chicago. As for Anaheim, this is also not to say that the Ducks will take the whole pot again either. However, it’s very hard to ignore the way they are playing. It’s not just breaks they are getting, they are just very good and it’s showing up on the scoreboard and in the standings.

ECHL Rivalry In The Making- The San Francisco Bulls and Stockton Thunder will play each other a total of 13 times this season. Both teams are separated by 85 miles and Saturday Night had to be separated by three officials as both teams engaged in a 10 man brawl that took several minutes to break up and get order restored on the ice. The Stockton arena filled 7,526 seats to see the Thunder take down the Bulls 4-0, but the score and the game itself turned out to be the back story. Things got rather chippy at the Stockton arena with 8:29 remaining in the third period when the Bulls Cody Carlson on leveled a strong hit on the Thunder’s Gabriel Levesque. From there a hard hitting hockey game broke out into a five-on five brawl. After the officials were able to sort everything out, four players from both lines got the gate. Levesque, Matt Reber, Maxime Boisclair, Tony DeHart for the Thunder; Carlson, Dylan King, Hans Benson, and Jordan Clendenning for the Bulls were sent to the locker room. Each received five minutes for fighting and game misconducts. Both teams in the end combined for 144 penalty minutes. These are the same two teams that played at the HP Pavilion in San Jose back on December 17th while the NHL Lockout was going on. In that game the Thunder tripped the Bulls 6-4 in a game that was not nearly as contentious as this one was.

Goings On in Worcester- The AHL Sharks affiliate through 49 games of their regular season currently sit in third place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division, and ninth place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference Standings. Sporting a 23-20-6 record (five of the six overtime losses via the shootout), the AHL Sharks sit one point out of a playoff position with 52 total points (the eight place Hershey Bears have 53 points). The Sharks split two road games over the weekend, defeating the Adirondack Phantoms in Glen Falls, New York by a 3-2 final Saturday night. Alex Stalock picked up 13th win of the season as Freddie Hamilton’s goal late in the third period was the game winner. Jon Matsumoto and John McCarthy added goals for Worcester. McCarthy’s tally was his third goal in as many games. Stalock made 26 saves in snapping a personal four game losing streak. Worcester outshot the Pantoms 33-28. On Sunday the AHL Sharks were not as fortunate in dropping a 3-1 decision to the Providence Bruins. Yanni Gourde scored the Sharks only goal in the third period while Stalock made 27 saves. The game was much closer than the final score as the Bruins added an empty net goal in the game’s final nine seconds. The Sharks outshot the Bruins 33-30. The game in Providence Sunday afternoon ended a season long five game road trip. The AHL Sharks have also announced that they are already making plans for season ticket renewals for the 2013-14 season.

San Jose State Spartans Hockey- The Spartans hockey club has made the Western Regional Playoffs which begin next Saturday, February 23rd in Salt Lake City. The Sharks first opponent will be the San Diego State Aztecs. The game will start at 4pm Pacific Time (5pm Mountain Time in Utah). San Jose State finished 5th in the final regular season rankings in the Western Region of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). If the Spartans are successful here and advance, they will go to the 2013 ACHA Men’s Division 2 tournament to be held in St Louis March 15th through the 19th. The Utah State Aggies and Arizona State Sun Devils are the top two ranked teams in the ACHA region which means they both automatically qualify for the tournament in St Louis. In addition to the Spartans, other teams making the tournament include of course San Diego State as well as Colorado State, Weber State, Utah, Texas A&M, University of Denver, Northern Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Loyola-Marymount and Cal State Long Beach. San Jose State is the fifth seed in the Western Regional Tournament while Utah State is the top seeded team. If the Spartans were to win the hockey title, it would be the first of it’s kind in San Jose State’s Athletic history. The Spartans must of course defeat San Diego State and one other opponent to advance to the Nationals in St Louis next month.

Next My Two Cents- March 3rd…

…Just My Two Cents…

The Kingshark

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