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Shark-Infested Blogger


February 14, 2010 3:57 PM

Sharks Sputter into Olympic Break

The San Jose Sharks went 2-2 this week, even though only one of the four teams they were playing was in playoff position at the time of the game. This does not speak of a team that is ready to shed its past playoff failures.

Granted, all four games were on the road, but we have been hearing all year about how this is the best road team in the league. Sure, they were without Marc-Edouard Vlasic, second on the blueline in minutes per game, but there were plenty of players to step in even before the trade for Niclas Wallin.

Sure, they were without Manny Malhotra, but he is a checking line centre, and there are plenty of capable players to rotate in. Jamie McGinn should be getting more playing time, anyway.

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The bottom line is the Sharks got outshot in two games and were even in a third, leading to a 120-135 disadvantage for the week. Naturally, they were outscored 7-10 in the process.

This year, San Jose has only outshot opponents by an average of .4 shots/game, rather than leading the league in that margin as they did last year. This means that against the good teams who control the puck better, unless Evgeni Nabokov steals the game--an increasingly less likely event as he wears down and as San Jose plays playoff teams with better goalies--the Sharks are not going to win.

Usually, the team that gets the most shots gets the fewest blocks, but San Jose had a 49-52 deficit in this all-important category, too. They simply lacked the work ethic it takes to win on the road, further evidenced by the fact that they were outhit in every game of the week, and 89-125 overall.

The good news is the Sharks still managed to win the faceoff battle. Ironically, in each game the team that lost this battle was within one faceoff win of the winning team, with one tie.

A 124-123 edge might not seem like much for a team that is best in the league in this category, but the road team is at a significant disadvantage in the circle. Moreover, they faced good faceoff teams: Detroit, Toronto, and Columbus are all in the top-11 (Buffalo is 24th).

Perhaps more positive is that the Sharks, one of the most turnover-prone teams in the league, had fewer giveaways in all four games. While they also had fewer takeaways, the difference was a plus-seven margin for San Jose.

Of course, this is really more a manifestation of the lack of time they had with the puck despite their faceoff advantage. This was because the Sharks passing was horrific, and they spent more time chasing the puck than their opponents rather than having it on their stick, also leading to opponent opportunities to deliver more hits.

This team has got to do something, or they will not go past the second round for the fifth year in a row. And I do not mean trading for a third-pair defenceman like Wallin.

The reason this is urgent and I do not believe we can continue to play for the future is that a dozen of the active Sharks are free agents on July 1. With raises coming to them, Wilson will not be able to make this team even as good as it is this season, and this is an all-in year.

This is especially true with the Penguins and Capitals on the verge of having dynasties, and Chicago (if they can solve their cap issues), Vancouver, Colorado, and Los Angeles having the chance to do the same in the West.

I know this for sure--this team, as is with only tweaks, may get to the conference finals at best (and I would bet against it) this season. But despite the urgency of my view, there are few things the Sharks are missing, making a trade all the more sensible.

In fact, it is possible to sum up all of what the Sharks lack in four words: depth at the top, visible in all three units. (The team still lacks some grit, but a trade will only add a modicum of that.)

  1. Thomas Greiss' lack of playing time suggests the team is not comfortable with him, but I think he is an adequate backup goalie. We will know this after we see him in the Olympics behind an overmatched team, and can make a trade if necessary.
  2. The Sharks only good forward line is the first one. The three forwards on the top line have scored 86 goals, and the other 20 who have gotten playing time just 83. The second line has 45 of the remaining goals, so even though the checking lines play with energy and grit, they are not a threat to score.
  3. San Jose also has only one marquee defenceman, Dan Boyle. He has 45 points in 56 games (.80 points/game), and the other nine who have played have 78 points in317 games with the Sharks (.25/game).

Doug Wilson finally accepted that the Sharks have tougher, younger, and more-skilled enforcers, and dumped Jody Shelley for a sixth-round pick (exactly what they gave up to get him). Maybe that was to clear cap space.

I hope so, and after my Olympic preview and coverage, I will write about potential trades to get the Sharks over the hump.

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