Shark-Infested Blogger

April 16, 2010 4:31 PM

Big Changes in Store for Sharks, Either Now or Later

The San Jose Sharks have opened the playoffs the wrong way again, as they were out-played by an inferior team (at least in talent) on their home ice. No matter how much they claim last year does not affect this year, it does.

For one, the Sharks cannot legitimately make the claim that this team is different. Sure, nine of the 20 players dressed Wednesday night were not on the team, but almost every significant player was. After all, one of the players changed is Thomas Greiss, who did not even don his mask at any time during the game.

The most important players are the goalie, top two forward lines and top two defensive pairs. Ryane Clowe (19:28) received the least time out of these ten only one of those 11 players, and Manny Malhotra (15:32) the most out of the remainder of the team.

Of those players, only Dany Heatley is different from last year--a definite upgrade over Milan Michalek, but it is not in skill the Sharks needed an upgrade. It was in sacrifice, mental toughness, and approach. Replacing your role players for ones with those qualities could have been contagious, but if the Sharks inconsistent play during the season (when those traits were invariably missing) and the limited evidence in the games that really matter so far are any indication, it failed.

Sometimes you just lose. Sometimes a bad bounce--like the game-winner off Rob Blake's skate in the closing minute--costs you a game. Sometimes an opposing goalie steals one from you.

3443681450_c4126c85ba.jpgBut when it happens to you every year, it is a pattern. When goalies without any previous playoff success are doing it to you, it is a problem. The goalies that have beaten the Sharks in the past three series--Marty Turco, Jonas Hiller, and Craig Anderson--had a combined 3-4 series record coming into the matchup. They have gone 9-4 against the high-powered Sharks offence.

The reason? The Sharks do not get enough traffic in front of them, allow them to get comfortable, and do not get the high-percentage rebound goals consistent offences need.

They are also accused of choking, and it is not unfounded: San Jose missed a whopping 14 shots on Wednesday, more than half what they got on goal. They fail to adjust their offensive strategy, not just blocking the goalie's view (a problem in all three playoff series), but to avoid the Avs' prolific shot-blocking, having 17 other shots not reach the net. They fail to match the Avs desperation, getting only ten blocks and allowing 30 to get through.

If you are out-shot, out-blocked, and miss the net more than your opponents, you will lose. When you have two forwards you rely on for 32 percent of your goals, they had better not total three shots and five misses.

San Jose has to adjust their game for the playoffs, as they have not learned to over the past four years. In some cases, the Sharks started series in control and could not handle the other teams' adjustments; this year, they must turn the tables.

If not, there are not only 12 free agents for the Sharks this off-season that may be looking for new homes, there may be other jobs lost, as well.

For all his regular season success, Todd McLellan is 2-5 in the playoffs with a team that is up against the cap; Ron Wilson was fired for being 18-17 with a team that was $10 million under the cap. Ultimately, it is his responsibility to make the necessary adjustments and get the necessary play out of the talent under him.

And for all his apparent shrewdness, Doug Wilson continues to field teams lacking in the essential intangibles. He has either made or not made trades during the season and made moves in the off-season, but always nets the same result: President's Trophy contention rather than Stanley Cup contention.

So the question facing the Sharks tonight really is, "Do we want to make the changes badly enough to produce now, or do we want changes in the forms of pink slips this summer?"

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