The San Jose Sharks made the playoffs yet again. However, a year after making an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final, they slipped out of the hunt for hockey’s top prize in the opening round.
Given the Sharks’ injuries to key players, this was not a surprise. Much will be made of how the Sharks lost. In terms of the roster, I’ll take the Sharks roster over the series-winning Edmonton Oilers every day of the week and twice on Sunday. But series’ are not decided by rosters on paper, they are decided by players and their actual game at the time of the series.
For San Jose, the timing was not good. If last season’s playoff march was close to adversity-free, this season’s was the opposite.
The Sharks injury list included Joe Thornton, skating with tears in two knee ligaments, the ACL and MCL. He played on that? You must be kidding. But yeah, he did. Tomas Hertl had a broken foot, Patrick Marleau a broken thumb and Joonas Donskoi a separated shoulder. Logan Couture was playing with what amounts to a broken mouth. And while nothing was disclosed about Joe Pavelski, he wasn’t right either.
Quick Strikes and Key Moments
The NHL is highly competitive, and no team remaining is so much better than any other it can afford to have top players compromised or out. The Sharks put up an admirable battle.
In the series, they were burned by Edmonton’s quick strikes. Zach Kassian scored the lone goal in Game 4 after a defensive zone turnover by San Jose. Both Edmonton goals in Game 3 came shorthanded, both on speed rushes up the ice (one contested, one not). Both Oiler goals in Game 6 came on breakaways. Edmonton’s time in the offensive zone with puck possession for these five series-defining goals? It averages of about three seconds per goal. It was not the grinding which produced the glory for the Oilers, but their grinding set the stage for the difference.
The Sharks outskated the Oilers in Game 1, Game 4 and Game 6. Goalie Martin Jones was good but was unable to steal a game for the Sharks. A heroic effort in Game 5 came close. In that game, he made several excellent saves to preserve the Sharks’ chances. Alas, the Sharks had essentially no offense for the final 30 minutes of play. Without any offense, the question was not “if the Oilers will win”, but how long Jones would keep the game going. The Oilers won 18 minutes into overtime, having outshot the Sharks 14-2 in the extra session (and 35-14 from the second period on).
Cam Talbot, on the other hand, made sure the Sharks’ competitive efforts in Game 3 and Game 6 went for naught. Jones was as good as Talbot for the series, but Talbot got the better of it when it mattered.
The Final Result
A snapshot from Game 6 explains a good bit of the series outcome. With Edmonton leading 1-0 early in the second period, the Sharks got crossed up, resulting in a missed pass at their blue line. This led to a breakaway for the Oilers’ Anton Slepyshev. Slepyshev, with four career goals on his NHL ledger, beat Jones to make it 2-0. Minutes later, Patrick Marleau, with 508 career goals (and another 67 in the playoffs, he’d make it 68 later in the game) was one-on-one with the Oiler goalie. Talbot won the battle against Marleau and ultimately the series against the Sharks.
In an unevenly played series where the unusual happened often, the outcome was appropriate. The statistics say the Sharks had the better series, but alas, the 7-0 win in Game 4 distorts the numbers. Oilers were the slightly better team, and critically, better able to capitalize on the key moments in the competitive games.
It’s been a long time since a team went to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons. This Sharks team was not going to be the team who broke the streak. They had the roster, but too many other things were lacking, including health. Sharks coach Peter DeBoer mentioned it in the post-series press conference, the team ran out of gas in March. The series featured a young, healthy team against an experienced, but injured team that was running on fumes. The Sharks held their own, which is very respectable. Respectable, however, is not good enough to advance this time of year.