Before the Sharks took a flight to Ottawa eight days ago, many expected this recent road trip to teach us a lot about this team. It promised to be a game of Operation-- each pluck and pull of assorted essential organs showcasing elements to the Sharks cohesiveness as a team, the little tweezers trembling in your fingers as you tried to stay calm and controlled, consistent and true. It was a perilous time. One where you were supposed to find out just what your nerves were made of.
As it turns out, that game of Operation turned out the way it always does—an affair that really doesn’t measure anything outside of your patience for annoying little buzzers and working with clumsy little tweezers. A pretty poor metaphor for the 2010-2011 season to date.
The reality is that, 6048 miles later, we’ve ended up in the same place we were before the trip. Pleased with elements to the Sharks game, frustrated by others, and intrigued with the ooey gooey center of it all. Which isn’t to say there aren’t new lessons to be learned, and new stones that have yet to be overturned—those are in abundance. But if inconsistency has been the middle name of San Jose this season (it has), and finding a solution to that inconsistency is still floating out there in the great white yonder (it is), then this road trip boiled down to picking up some much needed standings points instead of a trip to the town of Turnaround.
The good news is that the Sharks got six points. The bad news is that they could have had at least eight. Here’s ten things we learned along the way.
10) A picture is worth a thousand words. In Philadelphia, this picture is probably worth one.
9) Marc-Edouard Vlasic needs more Deion Sanders in his offensive life. "Pickles" is such a stale nickname but admittedly fits the nature of Vlasic’s game perfectly—on nights when he’s playing well he flies so far under the radar that you can probably only count three out of thirty total shifts where you noticed him. And that’s a good thing. His success is built on deft stickwork and body positioning, not the sonic boom of Douglas Murray or the sonic speed of Dan Boyle. But if Vlasic wants to up his offensive game we think a new off-ice personality is in order. Enter "Brine Time", a brash and loud personality who loves the spotlight. We want shades in the locker room, gold hanging from his ear lobes, a do-rag under his helmet, and a quick tongue that’s candid and entertaining. Or maybe just a few more second assists before 2011. That sounds about right.
8) Patrick Marleau shouldn’t be benched. Marleau didn’t have a very good road trip to say the least, and will enter Chicago’s game with a team-worst -16 (!!!). Those defensive struggles were laid out in last night’s loss to Buffalo, where a brutal giveaway in the defensive zone led to a goal that proved to be the game winner. Marleau’s mercurial season to date has many concerned, but whatever the issues are with his game, a stint in the press box isn’t going to do it. He needs to work this out on the ice, possibly in a limited role, but on the ice nonetheless. He’s too important a player to risk playing mind-games with behind the bench, especially when you consider that one excellent game has been enough to get him going historically.
7) Justin Braun is the 2009-2010 Jason Demers. Offensive talent galore, defensive issues which will hurt the team. His year is going to have its ups and downs on a shift by shift basis, but the upside is extremely intriguing and has us pleased with his development. The good news is that the blueline got Niclas Wallin and Jason Demers back during the trip, meaning Braun can get sheltered minutes on the lower pairing from here on out.
6) Ryane Clowe is a bad, bad man. And a big fan of The Walking Dead apparently.
5) Doug Wilson doesn’t need to push the panic button. The last two weeks have seen three separate articles on Fear The Fin looking at the prospect of a trade for a top three defenseman from a theoretical standpoint. We outlined the immense difficulties facing Wilson when trying to get a deal done, but acknowledged that a brutal road trip from San Jose could force DW’s hand to make a move. Six points is far from brutal, and with the team getting healthy again, it’s safe to say I don’t feel a blockbuster trade which stretches the organization’s resources is on the way in the near future. San Jose proved they can compete in any given period—it’s up to the current players in the locker room to achieve those results until we reach 2011, when buyers and sellers on the market will become clear.
4) The loss in Buffalo last night was a good thing. Against Detroit and Philadelphia the Sharks came out extremely flat to start the game, only to turn it around and reel off some astounding back to back comebacks. It was refreshing to see San Jose return to their quick-strike roots, and as Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan mentioned, it was a character building experience. Those types of situations where you are able to overcome self-inflicted adversity are a positive in small doses. But if San Jose manages to reel off a third straight win in Buffalo despite coming out flat, the potential is there for bad habits to form. The message from the coaching staff from here on out will be to compete from the opening whistle. And with Chicago and Dallas coming into town for the next two games, those rivalries can provide an outlet for McLellan to finally get that message to sink in.
3) The rest of December is going to be awesome. If you play in the Western Conference right now, every inter-Conference game is going to have huge standings points implications. And the rest of December for the Sharks is no exception. San Jose plays Chicago (x2), Dallas (x2), Nashville, Phoenix, Minnesota, and Los Angeles all before the New Year. That's exciting as hell.
2) At this point, who knows anymore. It seems as if everything is a microcosm of the Sharks season right now—their road trip, their win against Detroit, their last ten games, your love life. Inconsistency is everywhere. It’s a fools errand to predict when the Sharks will finally find that switch and begin to reel off a ten game stretch of elite hockey. The only consistent has been Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe this year. And while it’s excellent to see Clowe establish himself as a player who is essential to the team, and great to see Couture establish himself as a franchise player, San Jose needs that shot of adrenaline to come from guys making over $3.0 MM a year if they’re going to establish themselves as a legitimate threat to win the Stanley Cup.
1) Hockey. With the holidays in full swing, and the air getting crisp, there's nothing better than pouring yourself some spiked cider and settling in to watch this wonderful sport. Big Western Conference matchups, the World Juniors on NHL Network, and FTF Night At The Tank are all right around the corner. Can't ask for anything better than that.