If you look at the last few games the San Jose Sharks have played after the previous four-game home stand, you could see that not only have the Sharks just had trouble finding the back of the net, especially during the two games that San Jose was shut out (vs. the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers), but Antti Niemi just has not had a very solid performance for a good part of that span. Again, I’m not trying to single him out. We’ll get to that later.
After last night’s very forgettable loss, and with the Olympic Break just up ahead and the playoffs following up in about two months, I think it’s time for us to ask ourselves what kind of team we’re really looking at here and what kind of team they’re really trying to show us. The issue here is consistency without a doubt. Throughout the years the Sharks have struggled to find that consistency midway in season to win games and, more importantly, push them far in the playoff picture. We know that this team that the Sharks GM has built in front of us is a different team than last season. We know that the Sharks have found a new identity as a speedy and gritty team that loves to go after the puck, but why didn’t we see that last night against the Philadelphia Flyers? Also worth asking, what happened to the Sharks power play that had been clicking so well for the early part of the season? In my article on the Sharks’ Execution game, one of the things I talked about and quoted head coach Todd McLellan on was the fact that the San Jose Sharks had strayed away from their shoot-first mentality on the special teams advantage and started passing and trying to create those shooting lanes again.
We know that the Sharks are very capable of putting it to the back of the twine, but we also know that they’ve got to do more than just rely on their top six forwards like Joe Pavelski. All their guys have to chip in, both offensively and defensively. They need secondary mileage and scoring as well.
As for the goal tending, the forwards and the D have to do a good job of communicating with each four and the goalie (whether it be Niemi or Alex Stalock) to read and make sure the puck either gets out cleanly on the breakout executions or if there’s a shot coming the goalie’s way he’s got to be able to see the shot coming at him and stop it.
Now, onto Antti Niemi’s game. We know he has his nights when he plays just outright spectacular, but we also know that he has his share of bad nights. Unfortunately of late the latter has happened. He’s let in more softies than he should. He’s seemed a little shakier than Alex Stalock (and perhaps, to some in the Sharks fan base, that’s even sugar-coating it a bit). Can he bounce back sometime later in the season and return to being the elite goalie we know him for? I believe so, but it’s got to be sooner than later because the clock’s ticking fast.
The same goes for the rest of the team. We know that San Jose has been suffering from injuries to big key players like Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, but the team itself knows it’s not an excuse to just sit back and only rely on those players to help provide offense. No. Hockey’s a team effort. Everyone’s got to dig in and do their share of the deal and live up to their contracts worth, and the big stars have to step it up and be the leaders of this team. The Sharks have a chance at making up some ground when they continue their four-game home stand hosting the Dallas Stars, another great team that they have faced before in the season. Here’s to hoping for two more wins and a well-rested San Jose Sharks after the Sochi Olympic Break to help their cause.