A Long Road Ahead
After the Sharks lost 2-0 to the Calgary Flames before Thanksgiving it looked as if the team was ready to crack under the pressure. Todd McLellan being fired was all over the news while no player could escape their own faults so far this season. Even Sharks owner, Hasso Plattner expressed his frustrations. Fans were starting to see that this truly would be the step back that Doug Wilson was talking about. Defensively San Jose has been a mess, offense has been non-existent and goal-tending simply has not been better than the other teams. The culmination of these factors has slowly torn down the Sharks.
Then, from out of the blue San Jose has managed to string three straight wins together for only the second time this season. The Sharks scored 15 goals in the process which is as many as they scored in their previous TEN GAMES before this winning streak! We can try and break down all the different reasons as to why the Sharks suddenly have woken up from their slumber but at the end of the day things just happen for no particular reason. Even so San Jose is by no means a playoff team again as they still sit in ninth place.
Of course one difference is the fact that during these three games the Sharks have had both Mike Brown and John Scott in the lineup. San Jose is undefeated with Brown in the lineup (5-0) and is (5-3-1) with Scott in the lineup. But these are obviously “goons” that get carried by their teammates according to certain people. Some claim that Mike Brown and John Scott are to blame for losses in games that they did not even play in. Chalk it up to coincidence, heart or a strong “bench presence” but for whatever reason the Sharks play better with these two players in the lineup and I have no idea why.
Profiling has a few definitions but here is one of them- “the act of suspecting or targeting a person on the basis of observed characteristics or behavior.”
I have to admit that I was not happy about the Brown contract and I was livid when I saw the Scott signing by San Jose. But how can I criticize two players that are in the lineup when the Sharks are winning? Players like Tye McGinn, Chris Tierney and Barclay Goodrow haven’t contributed anything more despite playing alongside better line-mates and having more ice time. It doesn’t matter if you are 18 years old or 38 years old if you are in the NHL you should perform at that level and contribute based on the talent you provide. This is why I have been such a big critic of both Tyler Kennedy and Matt Nieto, two players who are starting to prove me wrong. It is a great feeling to be proven wrong because it means that Kennedy is well on his way to having a comeback year and it means that Nieto’s “puck luck” may be changing.
Heck, we haven’t even talked about Brent Burns slow improvement on defense! While certain people criticize his every move he has actually been the Sharks best defensemen during the Sharks six game home-stand. With a Corsi of 60% at even strength Burns is playing better than both Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic of late. The combination of Dillon, Burns and Mueller are all over 60% at even strength since November 20th. Brent Burns has even climbed to 53% on the year which is only behind Dillon and Vlasic but people still fiercely criticize his defensively capabilities. Even Scott Hannan, another player constantly targeted by certain people is playing better than the Sharks top defensive pair. Fancy stat enthusiasts forget the fact that Burns and Hannan boast the Sharks best team goals against per 60 on the penalty kill. Talk about profiling.
Losing, A Good Thing?
While these players are some of the most targeted in the media it certainly does not excuse Couture, Pavelski, Marleau or Thornton from taking a night off. So far the big four haven’t done such a thing and the support of certain key players like Tommy Wingels and James Sheppard who has fixed his face off woes have the Sharks looking like a team that is at least willing to compete. By no means are the Sharks any better than they were in November as they still have holes throughout the lineup but they are scoring goals and winning games. Of course losing and facing obstacles can be a good thing after ten straight years of playoff appearances.
After a certain time things that were significant become less significant and you start to take them for granted. The San Jose Sharks have started to take the regular season for granted and simply expect they will always make the playoffs. Logan Couture, Tommy Wingels, Andrew Desjardins and others joined a team that was either on the rise or at its peak and truly have not gone through true adversity during the regular season. (Let’s not talk about the post-season.) Gone are the Darryl Sutter days when making the playoffs was a huge deal to both the team and its fans. Expectations have never dropped since the 2004 season but perhaps presumptions should. The presumption that the Sharks are a Stanley Cup contender or even a playoff team. The presumption that some players are better than they actually are. The presumption that the Sharks are immune to rebuilds.
Now I’m not saying the Sharks should begin to “tank for McDavid” but instead savor each victory and truly appreciate what it takes to simply get to the playoffs if they make it there. When the regular season comes to an end, win or lose, we as fans should come to one conclusion. That conclusion would be excitement and enthusiasm for every game, every play and every goal. Appreciate losing just as much as winning as long as a solid effort was given. Before the 2004 season every game meant life or death and making the playoffs was a huge accomplishment. No longer is that the case for players or fans in San Jose. But perhaps if we both stop taking things for granted and be humble once again then a Stanley Cup is all the more likely, we’ve tried everything else.