Writing on the Wall
If losing the Stadium Series in your home football stadium against your biggest rival wasn’t the nail in the Sharks proverbial coffin, well, pull out whatever cliche you wish, but the writing is now on the wall. After a dominant first period against the Detroit Red Wings who were playing their third game in four nights on Thursday, the rested Sharks mustered less than 10 shots over the final two periods. Even a stellar bounce back game by Antti Niemi couldn’t save the Sharks from blowing a 2-1 third period lead in the final minutes to lose in regulation 3-2. Let’s pull out all the cliches, the Sharks playoff chances are all but over. You can stick a fork in them and make a Shark meat sandwich.
The Sharks, once known for being a home juggernaut have now lost seven straight home games, and are now 3-7-2 over their last 12 games. Fans frequently chime about a lack of passion from the Sharks in various forums and it is hard to argue against that claim. This team continues to look like a group that knows they aren’t good enough to compete with the best of the best. During the offseason, GM Doug Wilson said his team wasn’t close enough “with where the other teams are at.” While Wilson was wrong at the time, he certainly has turned the club into a team that isn’t close enough.
Blame Management, Not Thornton
Is the “uninspired” play really all that surprising though? Given the ridiculous summer put on by the Sharks front office? Making their best player out to be the scapegoat, stripping him of the captaincy, reverting one of the NHL’s best power forwards back into a defenseman (for the first time in two years), signing John Scott, re-signing Mike Brown, and fixing zero roster holes via free agency? Yeah I would be sour too playing for a team that handled the summer that way. The players will say all the politically correct things to those of us in the media but don’t be fooled for a second into thinking losing the captaincy didn’t bother Joe Thornton. No player in any level of hockey gets the C taken off his chest and is happy about it. But Thornton is far from the problem, he is still a top contributor and the Sharks top guys are still elite.
The Sharks are a team with arguably the best five guys you could ask for on a top power-play unit with Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns. There doesn’t get a more lethal five man power-play unit in the NHL on paper. Yet the Sharks flounder year after year because they don’t have the lower line depth, the defense depth, nor the goaltending. Blaming anyone of the top unit power-play guys is not only absurd, it is down right comical.
San Jose didn’t lose Thursday night because the Red Wings have more talent, they lost because they have no identity. Who are they? One night they are rebuilding, and the next night developing players are scratched for John Scott and Scott Hannan.
Perhaps the best example of the Sharks’ lack of identity is in the recent stretch of games for quality fourth liner Andrew Desjardins. The Ontario native is a terrific face-off guy, quality penalty killer, and has underrated play-making skills. When not playing with “five, or six, or seven minute players” like he frequently does, Desjardins is capable of being a 20 plus point, defensively responsible fourth line center. However, two games after scoring twice against Dallas (a game in which his line was the Sharks’ best on the night by far), he is a healthy scratch. Two goals against Dallas was followed up the next game with having to play alongside John Scott against the Kings, and then scratched against the Red Wings. Congrats on having a great game against the Stars with quality players in Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney as your linemates, your reward is to play the next contest on a line with arguably the worst player in the NHL, and then you will be benched the following game after that.