Killer Instinct: What Stadium Series Loss Means for the Sharks


The good news about Saturday night? The San Jose Sharks and their fans got to experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at the first outdoor hockey game in Northern California and the Bay Area at Levi’s Stadium, something that the victors — the Los Angeles Kings — already took in for their first time last season at Dodger’s Stadium in SoCal.

The bad news? The LA Kings emerged the victorious team this time, capitalizing on San Jose’s usual mistakes in their own end. With huge playoff implications on the line, the Sharks’ failure to capitalizing on a critical game once again raises troubling questions on what this team is truly capable of. With the catastrophic playoff collapse of last season a constant reminder for the team in the eyes of the hockey analysts nationally, one must ask what truly is the problem with this Sharks team constantly embattled by their inconsistencies.

The first thing in my mind that comes up besides the usual careless turnovers and lack of energy seemingly almost every game they play is something that former Kings’ coach and current NHL Network (and not-very-popular-among-NHL-fans, I might add) analyst Barry Melrose brought up during the Sharks’ practice skate Friday at Levi’s. The question was brought up by host Kathryn Tappen on whether or not he liked the Sharks’ front office’s decision to not have a captain for the first time in franchise history and instead go with the four alternates, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic. It’s an issue that continues to be brought up by the Sharks’ fan base, and needless to say the decision is pretty darn unpopular. There are people who have said that the Sharks should not have stripped Thornton of his Captaincy, while a high amount of others — including me — have seemingly come to a consensus that Pavs should be the next to wear the C.

Of course, we remember earlier even before the season officially began that Sharks GM Doug Wilson said that they’re trying to spread the leadership among the group. Everyone would play their part. Everyone knows they have to step up. Head coach Todd McLellan has constantly backed him up on that. Well, how well has that worked so far? I think the results, the scores and the effort almost every night should answer that question for us. Even Tommy Wingels has admited during an interview, I believe it was during an intermission, that the team isn’t on the same page. Now, that’s troubling. That to me and others is troubling. The Sharks just seem to continue shooting themselves in the foot not just with the constant careless turnovers in their own end and neutral zone but also with, as other hockey network analysts have put it, really no “go-to” guy.

You look at the LA Kings and what they have. They have the definition of leadership. They have guys who, as I’ve said before in other articles, know how to win and they execute. They have leadership from guys like Anze Kopitar and captain Dustin Brown. The list goes on and on.

Another important aspect to look at is what Kevin Weekes mentioned Friday. They don’t just rely on the Drew Doughtys or the Justin Williams’. They don’t just rely on Anze Kopitar for offense. They have offensive scoring depth from their third and fourth lines. That’s one of the big reasons why Darryl Sutter has been so successful bringing LA two Stanley Cups in the past three seasons. They have rookies like Jake Muzzin and Tyler Tiffoli who are capable of stepping up at big moments.

As for the Sharks? The inconsistencies are throughout the line-up, but you’ve got rookie Tomas Hertl, who I think is still pressured by the expectations of many after that tremendous four-goal game and six-goals-in-two-games to start off last season, which is why he hasn’t really found his game yet and is struggling to produce offensively. Sheppard hasn’t been on the scoreboard either. Rookie Matt Nieto, usually a second line winger, only has 4 goals on the season but has 12 assists. Now you might look at those assists and draw positives from them but there’s no doubt he’s in desperate need of goals.

I think y’all know where I’m getting at here. The Sharks lack scoring depth and always have. Guys like Tyler Kennedy who has hoped for a bounceback year after a disappointing start last year but has once again been ravaged by injuries can’t contribute much because they’ve had a tough year due to injuries. Now I’m not using injuries as an excuse, but again it just goes to show how much offensive depth is badly needed.

As for team defense, it’s no secret that that has been one of San Jose’s biggest problems this year and, quite frankly, has always been a problem. Yes, the Sharks need a solid defenseman. The Brent Burns experiment from defense to forward worked tremendously well last season, yet DW and the coaching staff saw some unexplainable need to bring him back to D. And how has that worked out? Not very well. They keep saying that he’s a great defenseman and that he’s just trying to readjust to his position, but for Christ sake, we’re coming up on 21 games left in the Sharks’ regular season. It’s too obvious out on the ice how poor of a job he’s done defensively. In fact, his numbers this year? Only 16 goals, 29 assists, totaling 45 points. The most telling stat of all? He’s currently a -2 overall. Compare that to last year when he had 22 goals, 26 assists, totaling 48 points, and he was a +26. That plus-minus is drastically different from this year’s.

Another problem? The Sharks management can’t seem to decide on whether to let their rookies develop their skills more on the ice or continue to let the veterans take the reins. It’s an issue I’ve seen talked about on Twitter, and that is a HUGE issue. I mean, forget about the inconsistencies on the ice. There are inconsistencies throughout the decisions of the coaching staff and front office. One game they decide to bring rookie defenseman Mirco Mueller in to have him adapt more at NHL level, and then another they go back to bringing veteran Scott Hannan in along with Matt Irwin, who too is a rookie. First off, yes, Irwin has a hell of a shot. But defense gets you far in the playoffs, and from what I’ve heard he hasn’t been playing very well along with Hannan.

That aside, remember the whole “rebuild” concept and the “promise” that Doug Wilson made in letting rookies see a lot more ice time? Yeah, so far that’s gone out the window. The only real consistencies I’ve seen in this season are, one, Joe Pavelski having yet another fantastic year in the goal scoring department. They only have so many games left, but nevertheless the Big Pavelski’s on pace for another 40-goal year. Two, Logan Couture’s quietly been having himself a season as well. He’s got 21 goals and 31 assist for a total of 52 points, and a plus-minus of 3. More importantly, he’s not afraid to call his team out when needed. Definitely a quality for a great leader in the locker room and on the ice. Finally, three, Melker Karlsson. Though he hasn’t been on the score sheet much of late and has been a minus for three games, including last night, he’s had his fair share of chances at the net. You have to love the way he plays, just getting to those dirty areas and crashing the net for the goals. That’s how he’s scored 9 goals on the season so far. It’d just be nice if he could pot a few more in to help the Sharks’ cause a little.

One last issue I want to mention is goal tending. Now, I haven’t talked a lot about goal tending since last year when the Sharks were having their own version of Vancouver’s goalie controversy. Nemo’s season has again been far from spectacular. Not that all the goals against are his fault, but there were definitely some here and there where he could’ve and should’ve saved. However, Stalock hasn’t fared nearly that well either. After the absolutely scorching hot rookie start of his first official season in the NHL last season, he’s struggled this year. Perhaps it’s because he’s not played in very many games compared to Niemi. Somehow, he’s lost his touch and it’s led to Nemo protecting his position as number one goalie in the crease. He has shown confidence, so despite having a fairly shaky season, the coaching staff has still decided on entrusting him with the number one role in net. That’s another thing that troubles me.

Goaltending is crucial in the postseason, and though it doesn’t look like the Sharks will make it, they have to do something. Niemi is streaky. He has his great moments, but he also has his bad ones. And I know I’m flipping over from blaming the five guys in front of him to the goalie himself, and the five guys in front of him — especially the defense — are at fault still. Make no mistake about it. However, you look at goalies like the LA Kings’ Jonathan Quick or the Vezina contender in Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators and you’re going to have to admit to agreeing with me. I’m not saying Nemo has to repeat his Vezina contending season to be good or for the Sharks to make the playoffs or win the Stanley Cup, but he has to make the saves consistently when they matter most. The Sharks could’ve easily had three or four goals against the League-leading Predators in the first of the two road games leading up to the Stadium Series. They clearly outplayed Nashville in the first period and had great chances on a PP in the second period. Unfortunately, Rinne stood tall and made saves when that puck should’ve been in the net.

Yes, Niemi’s done that against the Chicago Blackhawks in their one home game against them, but again there’s a reason why Nashville leads the League in the standings now and a reason why Pekka Rinne was the third star of the League about two weeks ago. I like Nemo. I think he’s a decent goaltender, but even when I defend him something’s got to happen in net. He’s in his final contract year, so it’ll be interesting what happens.

All throughout this season, and even in the off-season, the Sharks shot themselves in the foot. They made a lot of questionable moves (and non-moves). They signed John Scott, though he does have two or three goals to his credit this year, but not a defenseman like they should’ve. They moved Burnzie back to D even though they know how much of a success last season was with him up at forward. The list of inconsistencies just continues to grow and it doesn’t start on the ice. It starts in the minds of the coaching staff and front office and ends with a lackluster effort on the ice. With playoff hopes diminishing little by little, game after game, and their streak of 11 consecutive playoff appearances on the line, one can only hope the ownership and managment have taken cues and listened to their loyal fans. Mr. Hasso Plattner, there’s a reason why your team is highly inconsistent, and your fans have taken notice. Let the end of the sellout streak be a lesson and do the right thing. I don’t have any doubt the player want to win, although their constant turnovers and mistakes puzzle me. This year was the big test for Doug Wilson, and it’s obvious he failed. Only thing is how long will it take the Sharks management to realize that all of them failed and finally do the right things?