The Sharks have two very important games against Nashville and Chicago remaining on their home stand. They can’t look ahead, but we can.
The Sharks playoff hopes will be decided on the road over the next couple of weeks. Starting Tuesday in Winnipeg the team embarks on a seven game trip with additional stops in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The good news is that three of those teams are not currently in a playoff position and among the group of four teams that are in a postseason spot the Sharks have already beaten Montreal, Winnipeg and Pittsburgh this season. So in theory, if they win against the non-playoff teams and take down the Canadiens and Penguins one more time they’ll be fine. Who wouldn’t be happy with six wins on a seven game trip? Ah, if it was only that easy.
One thing the Sharks haven’t been this season is predictable. Who would have guessed they’d lose six combined games to Buffalo, Columbus and Edmonton this year? Did you have them knocking off the Kings, Anaheim and Chicago in succession only to go 0 for February on home ice?
If the team is looking for inspiration to make a late season push to the playoffs they need only to look back in their own history. In 1994 the Sharks went on a late season seven game winning streak which culminated with their first ever playoff berth. They clinched it with a victory in LA. This season ends April 11th in LA. Starting next Tuesday, 10 of the Sharks final 13 games will be on the road, and that’s where the fate of this year’s team will be decided.
I’m Randy Hahn for SJsharks.com
With two impressive wins over Montreal and Vancouver the Sharks have stopped the bleeding. Now it’s time for an assertive push to the playoffs. With that in mind let’s do some math.
The Sharks have 17 games left in the regular season, seven at home and 10 on the road. For the moment let’s assume that the Sharks best shot at grabbing a post-season spot is to finish in second or third place in the Pacific Division. Right now Calgary, LA and San Jose all have 72 points and are tied for third. But as a result of games in hand and tie breakers the Flames hold down the third spot and the playoff berth that goes along with it. So the Sharks will need to finish at least one point ahead of the Flames. If Calgary maintains their current winning percentage down the stretch they will finish with about 93 points. So if the Sharks are going to finish ahead of the Flames they’ll need 94 to be safe perhaps even 95. That means they’ll have to pick up 22 points in their final 17 games. Going 11-6 down the stretch just might get the Sharks in, but it won’t be a cakewalk by any means. Nine of their remaining games are against teams currently in a playoff position. Couple that with the fact that the Sharks struggled badly at home in February and have won three games in a row only once since December 20th. But the opportunity is there. However look no further than the next game on Saturday against the Canucks. Vancouver is 2-0 on SAP Center ice this year and will be looking for payback after Tuesday’s 6-2 loss. 22 more points should get the Sharks into the Stanley Cup playoffs but they’ll be taking it one game, one period, one shift at a time. There’s no other way.
I’m Randy Hahn for SJsharks.com
With the afterglow of the Stadium Series game fading, it’s back to serious business for the San Jose Sharks beginning Thursday night against the visiting Detroit Red Wings. For a lot of teams the “push to the playoffs” begins after the trade deadline, which arrives next Monday. For the Sharks the push is already on.
Saturday’s loss to the Kings was disappointing but it was also damaging in the standings. With Los Angeles now on an eight game winning streak the Sharks are two points behind them for third place in the Pacific Division and LA has two games in hand. But that’s just one problem. With 68 points the Sharks are a point out of a wildcard playoff spot and depending on what Calgary does Wednesday night in New Jersey that gap could widen. With only 21 games to go the Sharks have to get back on track and get on a roll. First of all they must solve their issues on home ice. Including the game at Levi Stadium last weekend the Sharks are 14-12-5 at home. They’ve lost more than they’ve won. That has to change and it starts Thursday against the Red Wings and then Saturday against Ottawa and Monday vs. Montreal. The team has to find a way to recapture the significant home ice advantage that has been their calling card at SAP Center for the past decade.
It’s looking like the Sharks battle to make the post season will continue right through to the end of the regular season. There’s a seven game road trip looming in March and the club will have to play 10 of its final 13 games away from home. But those are worries for another day. Right now the Sharks have to start their “push to the playoffs” at the arena they made so famous for being one of the loudest in the NHL. It’s time to make some noise.
I am done with the NHL shootout. It’s over. It’s dead to me.
When the league brought in the shootout following the 2004-2005 lockout I was all for it. Ties were boring and it was going to be fun to see some creativity when games went beyond five minutes of overtime. However after the Sharks record 13 round “snoozeout” against Edmonton Monday, I’ve crossed over to the other side. The longer that thing went the worse it got. A total of 26 shots were taken and only THREE goals were scored. Seriously? And it’s not like the goalies were amazing or anything. The Sharks kept shooting 5-hole on Viktor Fasth and he kept stopping them. At the other end the Oilers kept shooting glove hand high on Antti Niemi and he kept catching them. It was beyond dull. I guess it got fun for the players in the later rounds as they got to watch teammates who normally don’t get the call, attempt to score. Do you think Matt Irwin got chirped at all in the dressing room after the game?
But when you think about it the league is pretty much over the whole shootout thing too. Right off the bat they devalued a shootout win by creating the ROW column in the standings and making that the first tiebreaker. Then at the start of the season they outlawed “spin-o-rama” goals effectively taking the gimmick factor out of what was a gimmick to begin with. And then part way through this season the dry scrape was abandoned leaving the ice so poor in many rinks by the time overtime is over than even the most skilled players don’t want to deke the goalie for fear that they’ll lose the puck, not get a shot on goal and get chirped by their teammates in the dressing room later (see above).
So if the game is still tied after overtime go ahead and play 3-on-3 or 2-on-2 or flip a coin or have the captains arm wrestle at center ice. But the shootout? Kill it.
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
With the rest of the Sharks season set to resume Thursday there are so many questions that will be answered over the next 10 weeks. Questions like...
Is it a foregone conclusion that Anaheim will win the Pacific Division or can a team like the Sharks still put together a run to try and catch them?
How many more Hall of Famers will Joe Thornton pass on the NHL all-time points and assists lists before the end of the season?
Are the LA Kings about to shake their inconsistent ways and make a run up the standings as they attempt to defend their championship?
Will Patrick Marleau regain the scoring touch that has earned him the reputation of being one of the Sharks most reliable goal scorers over the last decade and a half?
Can the Nashville Predators hold off Chicago and St. Louis for the Central Division title?
Can Joe Pavelski repeat his 41 goal season and possibly take a run at 50?
Will the Sharks-Kings Stadium Series game at Levi's Stadium next month be the "iconic" game in Bay Area hockey history?
Will Brent Burns win the defenseman scoring race?
Will the Sharks final game of the season April 11 against the Kings decide which team makes the post season and which misses?
Lots of questions with all the answers about to be revealed! Enjoy the rest of the hockey season and the push to the playoffs!
Who is the Sharks best defenseman? It seems like a simple enough question but coming up with an answer isn’t that easy.
Part of the answer lies in what defines a good defenseman. Is he solely a player who should be judged on his defensive play or does the offense he provides also factor into the equation?
Some would argue that Marc-Edouard Vlasic is the Sharks best defenseman. Head Coach Todd McLellan typically has Vlasic on the ice against the opponents’ top offensive players. Vlasic leads the team in +- rating at +12 and he has respectable offensive numbers with 6 goals and 14 points including 3 game winning goals. He was also named to Team Canada’s Olympic squad last year in Sochi and came home with a gold medal around his neck.
Others might offer that Brent Burns rules the San Jose blue line. Burns is one of the NHL’s top scoring defensemen with 11 goals and 35 points. His 24 assists are just 1 behind team leader Joe Thornton. Burns has a booming shot. It’s a weapon. He’s also a key to the Sharks power play where he’s scored 4 goals and he has 2 game winners. But at -8 Burns has one of the poorer +- ratings on the team. Depending on how much value you place in that statistic it may diminish his reputation as a top defender.
When the NHL named its 2015 All Star representative from the Sharks it named Brent Burns. Does that mean the league regards Burns as a better defenseman than Vlasic? I’m not sure. Perhaps Burns was being recognized as much for his personality and admirable community work as he was his play this season.
One thing that is certian is that the Sharks have a good problem when it’s unclear who their best defenseman is and they have two very good ones. And when they are paired together on the ice as they have been recently in games, it’s a big problem for the opposition.
Joe Thornton had played in 319 consecutive games for the Sharks when he was injured in Anaheim on New Years Eve, so it was going to be interesting to see how the team responded without him. The initial good news was that they beat Anaheim that night. Three days later the Sharks struggled against St. Louis in a humbling 7-2 loss. They came out flat, put on a brief push late in the first period, and then collapsed the rest of the way surrendering six unanswered goals. They also went 0 for 6 on the power play. Life without Jumbo didn’t look very promising.
But two nights later in Winnipeg, the Sharks other leaders took it upon themselves to respond. Just like they have on other occasions this year when they’ve had less than acceptable outings (Buffalo and Vancouver at home), the team rallied. Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Logan Couture and Antti Niemi led the way. And then Marc-Eduard Vlasic stuck a dagger in the Jet’s with a game-winning goal in the dying seconds.
The next night in Minnesota the Sharks had to rally from a 2-0 deficit. Pavelski came through again. So did Tommy Wingels who broke a scoring slump. Rookie Melker Karlsson, who doesn’t look like a typical rookie, scored for a third straight game. Alex Stalock settled down after a shaky first period and the Sharks found a way to get the game to overtime. Then Mr. GWG, Vlasic, scored in the extra frame and the Sharks had another road victory.
It’s not a huge body of work but it’s hugely uplifting to see the Sharks players playing for one another and playing for the coaches. That’s what it feels like. We’ll see how they respond against the Blues on Thursday. And everyone in the dressing room looks forward to the return of Joe Thornton!
If the NHL amateur draft lottery were held today the Edmonton Oilers would be the #1 seed and the favorite to pick #1 overall, again. Due to their stretch of 8 straight non-playoff seasons, the Oilers have had quite a run at the draft table. From 2010 to 2012 they selected first overall each year taking LW Taylor Hall, C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and RW Nail Yakupov. Unless things improve appreciably this season there’s a good chance they’ll end up with the opportunity to draft either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, both of whom are being described by the hockey scouting community as “generational players”.
It’s tough to argue with the Oilers picks when they’ve selected first overall. It’s what they’ve done beyond the first round in their drafting that is under the microscope now. When they skated onto the ice against the Sharks this week the Oilers had only one player on their roster that they drafted outside of the first round. That’s a problem. The success of a good team certainly starts with solid first round picks but it doesn’t end there. Depth comes from the middle and later rounds. The Sharks have had some very good first round picks over the years that are on the current roster. Patrick Marleau, Scott Hannan, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Mirco Mueller were all taken in the first round. But the organization has filled the rest of the team with excellent players from much deeper in the draft. Joe Pavelski and Justin Braun were both taken in the 7th round. Tommy Wingels went in the 6th. Goaltender Alex Stalock was a 4th rounder. Matt Nieto and Marc-Eduard Vlasic came out of the 2nd round. That’s an impressive group. It could be a core group for many franchises. A top scoring center/winger in Pavelski, a top defense pair in Vlasic and Braun, speed/skill in Nieto, physicality/heart/leadership from Wingels and a goalie (Stalock) with the potential to be a starter.
It all points to some solid scouting and drafting by the Sharks, a skill that a team like the Oilers will have to be more successful at if they’re to be a playoff team again.
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
I’m feeling some angst in Sharks Territory these days. Fans are asking “what’s wrong with the team?”
Granted the Sharks present record wouldn’t have them in a playoff spot if the postseason started today, but they’re not that far back.
And how many times over the past 10 straight years of playoff appearances by the team have we seen the Sharks shoot out of the gate straight to the top of the division standings in autumn only to see them come up short in the spring?
Adversity builds character. The Sharks are going through their share of adversity right now. The road heavy schedule in October and November was brutal. There have been several very disappointing nights so far. It’s hard to understand how the team can be 0-5-1 collectively against Florida, Columbus and Buffalo. But this is a different team than last years. There are new players and the leadership dynamic is in transition. These things take time. It’s difficult to be patient when you’re used to seeing the Sharks cruising along through most of the season.
Are these Sharks good enough to make the playoffs come April ? I believe they are. Are these Sharks good enough to win a Stanley Cup? I have no idea. What I do know is that when a team goes through tough times together and has to fight and scrap for wins like the Sharks did on Tuesday night against Philadelphia, it’s bound to unite them and instill a stronger spirit in the group. Those are character traits that ought to serve them well when the big games come next spring.
Back in the late 80’s I was invited to be part of an organization called Pro Hockey San Jose. The purpose of the group was to promote San Jose as a viable NHL expansion destination and to hopefully attract ownership. We succeeded in educating a lot of hockey people about the city and ultimately the Gund family became the owners of the Sharks franchise. It was an amazing experience with lots of twists and turns along the way. There were also a lot of people who helped us achieve our goals. One of those people was former NHL player, coach, General Manager and executive Pat Quinn who died this week at the age of 71.
Right around the time that Pro Hockey San Jose was making inroads with then San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery about the idea of the new Arena becoming the home of a hockey team, Pat Quinn was the President and General Manager of the Vancouver Canucks. Quinn reached out to our group and wanted to help in whatever way he and the Canucks could. And it made sense. It would benefit a West Coast franchise like the Canucks to have another team in their time zone. It would help their travel and it would perhaps even offer up another rivalry, which it ultimately did. Pat Quinn dispatched his then assistant GM Brian Burke to San Jose to meet with our group and eventually Mayor McEnery and his staff. Burke, under the instructions of Quinn, shared the Canucks business plan with McEnery and spent hours answering questions about how an NHL team works and how it might impact the downtown area. That information proved to be incredibly valuable to the mayor and the city council in their eventual decision to back the idea of a hockey team for San Jose.
With his passing, Pat Quinn will be remembered for many things. I’ll always remember him for his interest in our idea’s and the hand he had in making the dream of NHL hockey in San Jose a reality.