Shark-Infested Blogger

April 17, 2010 10:10 PM

Sharks Suffer From Weak Post-Olympic Schedule

4254664004_0735d9aab1.jpgThe Sharks first game after the Olympics was on the road against the Stanley Cup contending and future Atlantic Division champion New Jersey Devils. After that big test, they coasted downhill, and now they are paying for it.

In the remaining 19 games, they played only seven teams in the top half of the league in record. They played only eight games against playoff teams. The only division winner they faced was Vancouver (albeit three times), and two of the four games they played against teams that have home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs were after those teams had locked in their playoff position, leaving them with nothing to fight for.

This explains why the team did not come out pushing the play on Wednesday and were outshot 30-26 in a game they were losing most of the way. They also did not make the adjustments necessary to beat Craig Anderson more than once in those 26 shots, missed the net a whopping 14 times, and did not have the desperation the Colorado Avalanche did that led them to get down and block 17 shots to San Jose's 10.

It also explains why they were sloppy on the back end on Friday, giving up an odd-man rush and breakaway goal in the second period. It explains why their focus dropped to give up a goal in the first two minutes of the first two periods, and allowed the Avs to take a lead just 25 seconds after tying the game.

The good news is that the Sharks are in a series now, and they are getting tested. By winning Game Two, they have managed to stay alive in the series despite not playing well. Evgeni Nabokov has already gotten his bad game out of the way, and the Sharks have gotten their offence going.

In other words, the Sharks superior talent has compensated for the Avs being more ready for this level of intensity than San Jose. They have survived the initial storm, and have learned in the process some savvy they can carry over to the rest of this playoff season, as long as it goes: In all three periods of Friday's game, the Sharks scored late to tie the game, then took their only lead in overtime.

The reality of this matchup is that the Sharks should never have lost a home game in this series. The Sharks were not in this situation last season, playing a more-tested team with a better blueline and, as it turns out, better goalie. A preview of this series showed San Jose came into the matchup healthier, hotter, deeper, with more marquee talent (presumably in all three units), and playoff experience. But the Avs were able to steal one (and almost two) because they were at a different level having to battle their way in.

Now that a home game was lost, there is no way this series is over in five games, and the Sharks (and in particular Nabby) will get little rest before the grind resumes: Colorado's speed will be a problem, and their youth and acclimation to the thin air will be too much to expect that the Sharks win every game in Denver. In fact, they will be lucky to take two of three there.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly...

The good news on this is, unlike previous years where the Sharks cakewalked to victory over Nashville or were beaten up and worn out by Calgary, the Sharks can win this series and be sharpened for the next. The bad news is the missing rest will catch up to them the deeper into the playoffs they get.

But it gets ugly from here: Every team San Jose is likely to face heretofore will be more capable of winning deep into the playoffs than they are. Vancouver and Chicago, should they make it through, will have battled injuries to their blueline but be getting them back in the fold, and Detroit is still the team to beat until they are.

Getting there is the first step, and the Sharks should be able to survive Colorado and hopefully pick up the skills they need at the next level. At least if they could not get those skills in a weak late-season schedule, they have a chance to in the first playoff series.

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