Thursday, March 05, 2009

Time to panic in Sharks Land...

Excuse me if this becomes angry, but I just watched my Sharks blow a 3 goal lead, and lose to the Minnesota Wild with 13.3 seconds to go the overtime period that never should have been.

Although still among the NHL's leaders in total points, the Sharks have been steadily slipping for over a month. Gone is their multipoint lead over Detroit in the West.

These Sharks were flying so high for so long and were playing so remarkably well, that we all got used to dominating results.

That seems like a distant memory.

Do not get me wrong, I am not losing hope. I am not a fairweather fan. I am however, witnessing a discombobulated squad piss away a sizeable Western Conference lead and lose on the road way too often.

What really scares me is that now they are losing at home. They lost to Dallas on Tuesday at the Shark Tank, even as Dallas was coming off a 5 game losing streak. They watched the Wild score 4 unanswered goals against them, including a bouncing dump-in from the damn blueline in the 3rd period. Up 3-0 with 4 minutes to go in the 2nd period, the Sharks took their foot off the gas against a team that lost in Edmonton less than 24 hours before the opening face off.

This is a larger problem than just the Minny debacle. The Sharks have totally taken their collective foot off the gas.

The problem could be a team-wide fatigue. It's getting to be that time of year. Guys are banged up and tired-- I get that.

What I don't get is the lack of intensity I see on the ice. I don't get why they are not playing their game.

What I mean is this:

1) The top line needs to pick it up. In the past 7 games, the top line of Joe Thornton, Patty Marleau, and Devin Setoguchi have combined for only 9 points... only three of which were on the power play. Thornton especially, must take a bigger leadership role on the ice... he's almost disappeared recently.

2) On that note, the Sharks have not been drawing penalties at the rate they were earlier in the season... which means they are not skating the way we all know they can and should. Not only that, but because of their recent performances, they have slipped to 3rd in PP%, a category they once led the NHL in. That may not seem significant, but it is.

3) They are not playing well on the road. In their last 10 games, they've won only 4. Of course they picked up points in 3 of their 6 losses, but those were all bad losses. When you lose in OT or the shootout, that's a bad loss. Many of these games included blown leads and subsequent losses-- which are emotionally harmful. Again... they are taking their foot off the gas against weaker teams.

4) They are not crashing the net and not playing Sharks hockey. Offensive sequences lately have included little other than one shot opportunities. Coach Todd McLellan's Red Wing-inspired scheme is why the Sharks have been so good all year. It's all about throwing the puck to the net, crashing hard at all angles, getting rebounds, and throwing the kitchen sink at opposing netminders. They were throwing up silly amounts of shots on goal as a team. 40 shots were nothing special. Now? In their past 10 games, they are averaging only 29 shots per game... That is not enough.

5) Injuries to forwards Marcel Goc, Jeremy Roenick, Mike Grier, as well as goalie Evgeni Nabokov are not helping matters. With Grier out until the playoffs, GM Doug Wilson was forced to go out and acquire two former enemies. Up from Anaheim are agitating winger Travis Moen and hard-nosed blueliner Kent Huskins from the hated Ducks. Ironic is that both are coming off injuries themselves. These guys are both energy players who aren't afraid to mix it up and piss people off... something the Sharks sorely lack right now. Maybe they can wake up the supposed leaders of this team while they're at it.

All the forwards out of action right now are the energy guys that anchor checking lines-- vital to the success of any hockey club. Young Torrey Mitchell who's been out all year needs to come back. He's a rocket out there who plays a "balls to the wall" style. If his leg heals up soon, we could be looking at a third line of Mitchell centering Cheechoo and Moen... talk about energy.

This devastating home loss to a desperate Minnesota club should be a wake up call for Team Teal. With Detroit hitting their stride, and a scary Calgary team getting better with the acquisition of scoring Center Olli Jokinen, there is a rough road ahead in the playoffs.

I hope they don't oversleep.