The Sharks began their week on the precipice of clinching a playoff berth. The standings on Monday (March 21) showed the Sharks needed a net of two points from either their own wins or Arizona losses to officially punch their ticket into the playoffs. At the same time, the Sharks were a mere five points out of first place in the Pacific Division behind Los Angeles and one point out of second behind Anaheim.
The Week’s Results
The Sharks, Kings and Ducks all played games on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. For the Sharks, their Tuesday game came against St. Louis, followed by a Thursday game against Edmonton. They finished the week with a Saturday afternoon against tilt against the Stars. All three games were at home, at the Shark Tank.
The week ended with the Sharks riding a three-game losing streak, with all three losses in regulation. Arizona won all three games, meaning the Sharks have still not clinched a playoff spot. They remain two points away from that milestone; maintaining the status quo on that front.
The Sharks did, however, lose ground to Los Angeles and Anaheim. The Ducks posted a regulation loss on Tuesday followed and an overtime loss on Thursday, before grabbing a win on Saturday. The Kings fell in regulation on both Tuesday and Thursday, before winning on Saturday. Despite their key opponents dropping multiple games, the Sharks lost ground. They are now four points behind the Ducks and seven back of the Kings. A window of opportunity was missed. Any confidence boosts the Sharks may have hoped to garner by passing up one or both of the Southern California teams likely met its end this past week.
The Main Concern
Some may point to key Sharks injuries as an issue. Most notable is the absence of Marc-Edouard Vlasic. I think Vlasic is an extraordinary player, but the Sharks were not substantially worse off in that regard relatively to their opponents. The Blues were missing Alexander Steen, the Oilers were missing Ryan-Nugent Hopkins and the Stars were missing Tyler Seguin. Each opponent had, at least, one top-unit player out.
People will point out that the Sharks lost on the scoreboard, but the effort was (for the most part) there. They controlled play well over half the time, and they put up more shots on goal in each of the three games. Cumulatively, they outshot opponents 99-63, an average of a dozen more shots per game. This level of play was reflected in head coach Peter DeBoer’s calm. On Saturday, he acknowledged the team effort, indicating the Sharks played well enough to win.
While this may be a new script for newcomer DeBoer, it is not for core players Vlasic, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. Sharks fans also know this is not a new script, but an unsettling one.
In May 2011, the Sharks lost a playoff series to Vancouver. Down in the series 2-1, the Sharks outshot the Canucks 91-47 and managed to lose both games to end their season. In April 2009, the Presidents’ Cup-winning Sharks took on Anaheim. In a six-game series, the Sharks outshot the Ducks every game. On average, they took a dozen more shots per game. Yet when it was time for handshakes, the team that had taken only 40% of the shots on goal was the victor.
In the past week, Sharks opponents took just 40% of the shots on goal and won all three games.
Winning play on the ice will only matter if the Sharks also do a better job of finishing than their opponents. Key stops at one end, key goals at the other. Dominating games for long stretches, only to lose, is a phenomenon that the Sharks will need to put to rest if they are to go far in the playoffs. This past week has resurrected some old demons. Perhaps they can get it out of their system now, instead of in a few weeks. If not, the Sharks return to the postseason will be all too brief.
I have written previously that playoff seeding is pretty much irrelevant. I’ll stand by that because the data in the linked article clearly says so. There is nothing wrong with the Sharks current playoff position, nor is there any tangible benefit to improving it. Still, the chance to move up in the standings is something that teams feel motivated to accomplish. It is in their DNA.
Douglas Murray was the Sharks alum honored prior the Saturday game against the Stars. I listed Murray as one of the five most fun Sharks to have watched in franchise history; a few of his more memorable hits are in the linked article.