The Stanley Cup Playoffs ended abruptly for the San Jose Sharks. Champions of the Western Conference last season, the Edmonton Oilers ousted the defenders in six games. Inconsistency marred the Sharks as youth and speed from the Oilers ultimately propelled them to the next round.
Several factors contributed to the Sharks’ short run in the playoffs this season. The core group was ready for the challenge after losing in the Stanley Cup Final last season. Though the team appeared talented on paper, results did not show throughout the season.
San Jose now has a long offseason ahead compared to last year’s run to the Final. Questions will need answers come free agency. But for now, here’s a few reasons that contributed to the Sharks’ early exit from the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Final Month of Regular Season a Disaster
Peter DeBoer’s team picked the wrong time to play their worst hockey of the season. For teams that are playoff bound, peaking just before the opening round could help in a lengthy run. In the Sharks’ case, their play trended downward in the final month of the season. A nine-point lead in the Pacific Division evaporated after a six-game losing streak in mid-March.
With the division lead now lost, securing possible home-ice in the first round was the only option as Anaheim and Edmonton surpassed San Jose in the standings. The choice was only a pipe dream in the Sharks’ 4-2 loss to the Oilers at home set up Game 1 on the road in Edmonton.
Before the NHL Trade Deadline, the Sharks were in the market for a forward to serve on the top line. Throughout the season, DeBoer was changing forwards on the line with Joe Thornton, and Joe Pavelski as neither Logan Couture nor Tomas Hertl garnered any chemistry.
Jannik Hansen was acquired from Vancouver who looked to fit the bill after playing with the Sedin twins. An early injury prevented Hansen from finding that chemistry alongside Thornton and Pavelski resulting in DeBoer juggling forwards once again.
Power Play Ineffective All Season
Game 4 showed signs of life for the Sharks’ power play in a 7-0 rout at home against the Oilers. The win only provided a glimpse of how deadly San Jose could be in the playoffs. Unfortunately, results from late in the season plagued the Sharks throughout the series.
Ranked 25th in the league, DeBoer hoped the Sharks’ power play would come through in the playoffs. San Jose’s power play last season was also struggling but became pivotal throughout the run to the finals. Against Edmonton’s young legs, San Jose could not find an answer.
Game 2 best summarizes the ineffectiveness of the Sharks’ power play. Edmonton was all over San Jose in the offensive zone. Whenever a Sharks player touched the puck, an Oilers player quickly jumped to cover, resulting in an easy clear for the home side. To make matters worse, Edmonton capitalized with two short-handed goals in a 2-0 win to even the series.
Injuries Tough to Overcome
Both Couture and Thornton played through injuries in hopes of getting back to the final.
Revealed today by Coach DeBoer, Thornton played with torn knee ligaments in the playoffs. Thornton initially suffered the injury on the road against Vancouver after going into the boards awkwardly after a hit. He missed the remaining games of the regular season and returned for Game 3 at home in Edmonton’s 1-0 win.
Couture took a puck to the mouth after a Brent Burns slap shot against Nashville where he immediately went off the ice. Edmonton players certainly took liberties against Couture by hitting him in the mouth as he played without a cage.
While nobody will question Thorton’s toughness, what Couture did was courageous with his teeth wired shut. Last season, Couture led San Jose in points during the playoffs. In this run, Couture could not make his mark, though the rest of the team wasn’t able to help either.
Though hoping for the Sharks to force Game 7, I was left disappointed leaving SAP Center. Credit Marc-Edouard Vlasic for defending Connor McDavid as the Edmonton’s star player had little impact in the series. Vlasic’s play proves he is one of the NHL’s best defenseman and he will see a pay raise in his next contract.
Martin Jones arguably kept San Jose in the series with his spectacular goaltending. Though his play dipped during the Sharks’ losing streak in the season, he rose again to the occasion in the playoffs. Unfortunately, his counterpart, Cam Talbot, edged him out as Edmonton came away winners.
Todd McLellan relished sending his former team to an early offseason after parting ways two seasons ago. Though both sides deflected questions from the media, no doubt McLellan wanted this series as a little payback.
Congrats to Edmonton on a hard-fought opening-round win against San Jose. I predicted the Sharks to win in six games, but the Oilers’ youth was too much and took advantage of their opportunities.