NHL Playoffs 2012 : Has the Window closed on the San Jose Sharks?

As the Sharks prepare for head out to St. Louis for Game 5 of the opening round, there’s a lot of questions about the team and where it’s heading.

No doubt being eliminated in St Louis will bring an offseason of change or so Sharks fans should hope.

Don’t get me wrong, this team still has plenty of fight and plenty of skill, but maybe the real question should be…

Is it enough?

Let’s face it, this Sharks team just isn’t elite anymore. There was a lot of talk entering the postseason about what was wrong with the Sharks??

Well, maybe there’s nothing wrong with the Sharks.. maybe they aren’t that good anymore, maybe the window has closed on this core, maybe they are who we thought they were?

While some may argue that 2008 was our best shot, I would venture to say that 2010 featured a far more superior team.

San Jose has regressed seriously since then in every single category that matters, starting with the awkward signing of Antti Niemi and the ensuing chain reaction of trades and events that followed.

Want proof?

Sharks lack depth – The 2010 team sported a third line that was simply dynamite, with Manny Malhotra, Torrey Mitchell and Logan Couture. Faceoff ability, excellent special teams ability and good speed.

The 2012 version of this team is either too small or too slow when McLellan switches Handzus and Winchester in for Dominic Moore and TJ Galiardi. Against the Blues, the Moore-Mitchell-Galiardi line looks horrible along the boards and in front.

Sharks not special – In 2010, the Sharks power play was fourth in the NHL with 65 goals in 309 chances. The Sharks were fifth on the kill with an 85-percent conversion rate.

The team was ranked 30th in the NHL entering the postseason this year, and the trend has continued in the playoffs, scoring on just 2 goals in 14 man advantages. That’s not championship caliber hockey, hell… it’s barely winning hockey.

This team infuriates me with the spotty special teams play, and the level of domination the Blues have taken over the Sharks is really unexplainable considering the high level talent on this roster.

Or is it really that high level anymore?

Patrick Marleau was almost invisible in the playoffs against the Blues, who outhit the Sharks and just imposed their will. Marleau just isn’t the same even strength player he once was, and that’s not a good sign for the recent resign.

Let’s be clear, he won’t fall off the cliff next season, Marleau will score plenty on the power play, end up with 25-30 goals but he’s on the wrong side of 30.

It’s clear that his slip in numbers was clearly a result of his reduced minutes with Jumbo on the top line. I’m not saying it’s easy to score 44 goals, but it doens’t hurt when you have the league’s top point producer in the last decade feeding you the puck.

Just ask Jonathan Cheechoo.

Sharks don’t play as a unit – What was looking like a lopsided matchup on paper, has played out to exactly that on the ice. The Blues are the sum of their parts, and collectively they have outplayed every single Shark, outside of maybe captain Joe Thornton.

As I eluded to in the Game 4 wrapup, the Blues depend on one another and trust that the line as a unit will get the job done. Too often you see the Sharks trying to do too much, and instead hurting the team, instead of playing as a team.

Until they start doing that, it’s not going to be much different for the men in teal when it comes to the quest for Lord Stanley’s chalice.

I am hoping for the Sharks best effort come Game 5, sadly that just might not be enough this time for San Jose.

Go Sharks

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2012 NHL Playoffs : Sharks Lay an Egg in Game 3, Lose Home Ice

With so much of the pregame chatter about how Game 2 ended, it was much to do about nothing as the Sharks limped through 60 minutes en route to a 4-3 loss.

The St Louis Blues now hold a dominant 2-1 edge over the Sharks in the opening round series, and they got plenty of help from the boys in teal.

Much like the Game 3 of the Penguins / Flyers series the Sharks allowed their emotions to rule the day, and paid the price via 3 power play goals that gave the Blues all the cushion they needed.

Most egregious of all was Captain Joe Thornton’s roughing minor with 2:35 left to play and the Sharks applying the pressure.

I’d say the lazy penalties, poor special teams and sloppy composure ruined the game, but to be honest the Sharks weren’t great at even strength either.

While I sat through the torturous swing of bad play and offensive zone turnovers that was the middle of the third quarter, I had to exercise every bit of restraint to stop myself from throwing my remote at my TV.

Not that I hate my poor TV who has taken the brunt of my often-hockey-fueled anger rampages, no my anger was directed at the supposed “hockey experts”.

No, not Ray “I should be following the Warriors” Ratto, I mean Bret Hedican and Drew Remenda who kept talking about how the Sharks 5 on 5 play was so much more superior.

three blind mice

What freaking game were they watching? Because by my count the Sharks had only 5 true scoring chances at even strength. When the team wasn’t turning the puck over, they were losing the battle in front and along the boards.

Getting pushed to the outside, horrible breakouts, not getting to rebounds, offensive zone turnovers and perimeter dominated shot selection downed the Sharks in Game 3.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Ken Hitchcock loves to coach against the Sharks, because he clearly outcoached, outchanged and dictated the tempo despite Todd McLellan being the home coach.

The team also showed no adjustments, from period 1 to the final buzzer and in fact didn’t show much urgency until Joe Thornton was escorted to the box late in the third period.

The team simply has to be better, and it starts with Todd McLellan on down. His system didn’t work in Game 3, and he showed little in the way of flexibilty and adjustment for the lack of success.

What Worked :

Joe Thornton : With 3 assists and 3 shots in almost 20 minutes of ice time, the Captain is leading the way. He had a “Shea Weber” moment, taking a poor roughing penalty with his team pushing for a score.

He needs to be better, and he knows that.

Brent Burns : With 1 goal and 3 shots, his true value is starting to show as Burnsie logged over 22 minutes last night and was defensively sound for the majority of the game.

What didn’t work :

Douglas Murray : I love the big man, but Crank has got to settle down and play within his game. Delivering the nasty hit, sticking up for teammates, clearing the crease are his strong suits.

Taking the puck on an end to end rush, and promptly turning it over 3 strides into the neutral zone isn’t.

Moore-Mitchell-Galiardi – After all the negative talk the Wellwood-Mitchell combo created in last year’s playoff ouster, GM Doug Wilson spoke about getting faster, bigger and meaner.

This line isn’t doing that, and at times looked physically incapable of taking the body against the Blues. The coaching staff needs to shake this line up.

It’s going to be an uphill battle, but we all knew this series wasn’t going to be over anytime soon. The Sharks will need to bring their A game for Game 4, hopefully the boys can get it into gear.

Go Sharks!

San Jose Sharks Game Day #82 – Winning the Pacific Division. I said it.

It’s easy to spout out any number of sports clichés when you think about the magnitude of the last game of the season. It’s also incredibly predictable, so to spare you the trouble feel free to insert any “game of the season” clichés you wish.

It’s a game San Jose wants to win in order to avoid the daunting task of taking of the Canucks or Blues in the first round.

It’s a game against a rival that you have a long history against, especially a very recent one…..

Hahaha…sorry to those who are King’s fans.. sorta.

So against that kind of backdrop we look forward to Game #82 against the Kings in what is again the game of the season.

Or rather game of the postseason, because game #82 will go a long way in determining San Jose’s odds and lifting Lord Stanley’s chalice.

The win in LA was huge, and coming back from down 3-1 and the ensuring back and forth action made for tremendous hockey.

You couldn’t help but be happy about how the team played in Los Angeles, because that LA team is loaded with offensive talent. The first half was a complete onslaught with the Kings outshooting the Sharks and the boys stood in there and fought back for the crucial win.

I couldn’t help but compare this Kings team to the one the Sharks often had difficulty with in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals a year ago.

Y’know…. the “ever-potent-Westgarth-Ponikaravsky-Lewis” line that dominated at stretches…. the horrible shot selection that made Quick look like he had a piece of plexiglass behind him?

Ponikarovsky?? really???

So when I say the Sharks are going to win the Pacific title, please understand I don’t mean to disrespect the Los Angeles Kings. I respect Dean Lombardi and Darryl Sutter what they did in San Jose, and they will be a tough out for someone else in the first round.

In many ways as a Shark fan, you can sit back and look at that team and wonder what could have or would have.

But I believe the San Jose Sharks will be winning their fifth Pacific title, and facing either the Blackhawks or Red Wings in the first round. The 2000 playoffs was an awesome time for any San Jose fan, but I remember how badly Halak owned the Capitals that year in the playoffs.

How Halak’s 52 save performance turned in the fourth best performance Montréal Canadiens history.

no thanks to facing this guy...

The Sharks want no part of that. Trust me.

Yes this team is without its flaws, I’ll be the first one to tell you that. I can go on and on about declining depth, stubborn personnel decisions, top heavy nature and often questionable shot selection can snowball into an angry poopball of maddeningly inconsistent and frustrating play that defines your fanhood.

But the game against the Kings showed just how this team knew how to rebound from adversity and rise to the occasion.

But still many points of the huge win are reasons for any Sharks fan to hope that maybe, just maybe this year would be the one when we’d actually get it done.

The adversity, the horrible officiating and fast pace of the game all faced the Sharks, and they rose up to meet the challenge. Continue that type of play and who knows where this team can go.

Here’s to coming home Saturday and winning the Pacific Division.

Let’s go Sharks.

What has to work :

A Fast Start – This key almost feels too old but if you are a Sharks fan, you know why. The Sharks must jump out to a fast start and dictate the pace and play their game of puck control.

The .111 winning percentage that the Kings own in the season series against the Sharks when being down by 1 doesn’t hurt either.

Be ready for Quick – As much as I like to tell you hate this guy, I really can’t because he’s just too damn good to hate. His stats and nine shutouts this season don’t begin to measure how important he is for the squad. You can expect him to come to HP looking for vengeance, add Ryane Clowe’s moment and you can bet the Kings will be ready to play.

The Sharks need to be smart about shot selection make sure that Quick knows they are there, stay in front of the net and pay the price to get the job done.

Anze Kopitar – Shark Killer Extraordinaire with 12 goals and 22 assists in just 38 games against the Tiburones. Containing him is always difficult, so we’ll need to be ready to put the clamps down.

Martin Havlat – He’s been a catalyst since his return from injury, showing his speed and tenacity not to mention a great set hands ( and dish passes! ). He needs to keep doing what he’s doing, or whatever he does just please Marty… stay healthy.

Possible X-Factors for the Game

San Jose Sharks – I really liked TJ Gagliardi‘s jump last game even though he failed to register a shot and rode the minus train (-1).

Los Angeles KingsJonathan Bernier, yes we’d love to see him.

Stay on Rob Scuderi – the veteran has a bad against the sharks this year, registering a -4 despite logging top pair minutes.

San Jose Sharks Game Day #79 – Shooting out the Stars

San Jose shutdown the Stars last Saturday 3-0, allowing them to leapfrog into the 8th spot in the Western Conference. Things got chippy between the two rivals late, and you can expect more of the rough stuff tonight.

With a 4-0-1 record against the Stars this year, San Jose has taken care of business both on the scorecard as well as in the faceoff dot. On paper the Sharks clearly outclass the Stars, who are thin down the middle and lack punch on the power play ( last in the league ) having scored twice in their last 10 games in 25 man advantages.

San Jose has also outscored the Stars by a margin of 20-8, providing an illusion of comfort that belies the true challenge at hand.

However skewed this contest may look on paper, on the ice and more importantly for the Sharks, on the road, the story has been quite different this year. On the road the Sharks have been putrid, losing 17 of their last 21 and four straight at the worst time of the year.

Yes, this has the look, smell and taste of yet another trap game.

Dallas will not be coming off a game the night before, as they did this past Saturday either. Playing at home, in front of their own home crowd, in the biggest game of the season, you know the Stars will come out to play hard and fast in the first period.

The Sharks looked sharp last Saturday, jumping out to a one goal lead behind Joe Pavelski’s wrister just 58 seconds into the contest. Fast starts have been far and few between for the Sharkies, but why?

Head Coach Todd McLellan’s seat has been warming up lately, and for good reason. The Sharks aren’t quite as loaded with depth as previous versions have been, but the lack of consistent focus and energy is certainly alarming.

While McLellan doesn’t skate, shoot or pass, he is the head coach and ultimately this season’s poor performance lies directly at his feet.

Want some more good news? Niemi took the ice first at warmups according to the CSN crew on Twitter, which means he’ll be taking his 19th straight start tonight. Managing workload? what’s that??

The Kings overcame their own “trap game” by defeating the Edmonton Oilers 2-0, and if the Sharks want to avoid missing the postseason for the first time since 2003 they need to put their best game forward.

Lose this game and it’s not the end of the world but it’s damn close. With a home and home against the red-hot Kings still on the schedule, the margin for error is smaller than ever.

Keys to the Game :

3. Contain Mike Ribiero – Pretty simple, this guy is a Shark killer and the only forward in the top six that can hurt us consistently. Did I mention he likes big games? Put the clamps on him early and often.

2. Stick to the game plan – Don’t allow the Stars chippy play or more specifically Steve Ott derail the game plan. Chip the puck deep, control possession and dominate the dot are all keys of the game plan.

Bitching to refs, playing out of your role, and getting caught retaliating aren’t.

1. Score early – Once Pavelski buried the early goal against the Stars Saturday, you could almost see the boys lighten up and get their feet moving. On the road the Sharks must shed the “fragile” label and get into gear quickly for results.

After scoring early, San Jose must also guard against the cute plays or high neutral zone turnovers that plagued them late Saturday.

How this talented team continues to struggle with consistency is beyond me, but the manner in which they turn the puck over with the lead is maddening and too cavalier to be championship play.

Trap game time folks, here’s hoping I’m wrong this time.

Go Sharks

San Jose Sharks Game Day #77 – Downing the Ducks

The ever changing standings in the Western Conference will be as jumbled as ever when the Sharks head to the Honda Center to face a familiar foe in the Ducks.

Holding on to the slimmest of leads in the Pacific Division, the Sharks need their “A” game tonight if they hope to extend their one point lead over Dallas.

They’d be best served by remembering just where they were a mere week ago, sitting in the ninth spot in the West and looking lost after struggling against the Kings and Ducks.

Behind Martin Havlat’s return to the lineup, some chemistry is brewing on the Winnik-Desjardins-Wingels line, and improved scoring from the bottom six skaters has led to winning 3 in a row and 5 of their last 7 to surge ahead of Dallas in the Pacific.

But it’s been tough sledding for the Tiburones against the Ducks, going just 1-4-0, with the lone victory back on Jan 4th behind a Benn Ferriero wrister.

The Ducks have always been a thorn in the Sharks’ side, and this year is certainly no different. On paper this is a Ducks team that isn’t very deep, lacks secondary scoring and is extremely top heavy in talent… Sound familiar?

San Jose needs to continue to play smart hockey and stay focused, something they didn’t do much of late in their big win over Colorado.

So without further ado, here are my 3 keys to Game 77.

3. Keep to the task at hand – The Ducks will undoubtedly come out with some fire and try to impose their will against the Sharks. San Jose must keep their heads in the game and not play outside of themselves, which is a concern given the chippy and often dirty nature of the Ducks.

Paying the price to make the right smart play will be the mantra tonight, as the Ducks are no stranger to throwing their bodies around with 1,741 hits to their credit this year.

2. Get out to a fast start – Pretty simple right? The Sharks need to get on the board first to continue to build their confidence and extend their sparkling .743 winning percentage when scoring first.

Getting the Ducks to overextend and push the play will be key, because beating Jonas Hiller is hard enough without the Ducks clamming up in their end. Getting on the board will also help keep the Anaheim faithful in their seats, all twelve of them.

1. Back up the talk – We’ve all seen the famous cookie cutter quotes and snippets from the locker room. Joe talking about accountability, Marleau talking about how every game is a 7th game, Pavelski saying they need to play smart.

Well this game will be another chance for the Sharks to put up or shut up, because the Ducks have spolier written all over them. If San Jose does not come out and take care of business quickly, they could once again be on the outside looking in with several crucial Western games on the docket tonight.

Does the deck look stacked against the Sharks tonight? Anytime Jonas Hiller (sans vertigo ) is facing the Sharks, you can’t like San Jose’s chances. With a disgusting .944 career save percentage against the Sharkies, it’s fair to say that Shark fans think Hiller is the second coming of Lucifer.

I really really really hate this guy....

But the Ducks are still in shambles, with Getzlaf trade rumors continuing to persist, and head coach Bruce Boudreau cursing at epic speed, the Ducks look like a lottery pick is in their near future.

Having said all that though, Game 77 still feels, smells and tastes like a trap game to me. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.

Go Sharks.

NHL Trade Rumors – San Jose Sharks interested in Rick Nash.. Could it happen???

TSN’s hockey insider Darren Dreger reported this morning that the San Jose Sharks have emerged as the front runners to possibly land Rick Nash. Nash is easily the most attractive skater available, and is relatively young, has skills galore and is a proven winner.

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=159311

So why am I not on board with this move? He’s a stud, he’s a leader, and Nash is good friends with Jumbo, and they’ve excelled for Team Canada when they’ve played together, so what’s the problem?

Overpay.. that’s what the problem is. Columbus’ demands for Nash are incredibly high, especially considering they turned down Toronto in their multi-player deal which included Kadri and Brayden Schenn.

Did I mention that Dean Lombardi is under incredible pressure to bring in Nash and that his job may be on the line? With the Kings needing scoring, and with Bernier or Jack Johnson as bargaining chips, it stands to reason that LA has more to offer than San Jose does.

Nash is still plenty awesome however, did I mention he scored a goal during last night’s 6-3 drubbing of the Sharks? San Jose is limping through a brutal road swing, and is 3-7 in it’s last 10 games. With 33 goals scored and 41 goals surrendered during that period, Nash could certainly be counted on to help the power play.

Darren Dreger says while San Jose turned down Columbus’ initiave asking price of Logan Couture, which is a steep price to pay indeed.

San Jose is on the short list of five teams he would waive his no-trade clause for, but what will we need to give up to land Nash? With the Havlat experiment on hold due to injury, Doug Wilson can’t count on Havlat to return and make a huge impact. So it’s clear the Sharks need some scoring in the top six skaters, but again at what cost?

I’m all for Nash coming to San Jose, so long as we don’t create another need by fulfilling this one.

Columbus just sent Vermette packing to Phoenix, and they figure to be busy at the deadline by dangling such names as RJ Umberger and Jeff Carter. But Rick Nash is in demand, with his name being linked to the Rangers, Flyers, Blackhawks and much more.

We’ve seen this script before haven’t we???

What seems to be a lifetime ago, another 27 year old stud came to Silicon Valley in a trade with the Boston Bruins. Thornton was acquired for the young Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm, and Wayne Primeau, quite a ransom.

There’s no reason to think that if Nash were to be traded to San Jose, you would be saying goodbye to core player or two. Nash, like Thornton was back then 27 years old, with a big frame, and is an elite power forward.

So what could Doug move for Nash? Douglas Murray, Torrey Mitchell and perhaps a first round draft pick would be a great move for San Jose, unfortunately the Blue Jackets would be more inclined to ask for more… much more…

Like Joe Pavelski….

Jumbo played coy with reporters when they asked him about Nash’s availability, simply smiling when asked if he had spoken to Nash.

When pressed for an answer, Jumbo simply smiled again and said “You’re just so focused on what you’re doing day to day,” Thornton said. “I really don’t pay attention to what’s going on with other teams.”

I, like Joe must be salivating at the prospect of Nash lining up on the top line next to Thornton. They were both pivotal in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver for Team Canada, and Nash would instantly become a icon for fans.

Problem is… at what cost???