Sharks Gameday: Turning Point

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7:00 PST
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43-16-10, 96 points 43-24-3, 89 points
1st in Western Conference
3rd in Western Conference

Television
CSN-CA
Radio
98.5 KFOX, Sjsharks.com
Antagonists
Nucks Misconduct

[Update]: According to our Worcester Sharks source (Broadcaster and Media Relations Director Eric Lindquist), Logan Couture has indeed been called up for tonights game. No news on the line combos.

We've waxed pretty heavily over the last 120 hours. Without a doubt, this stretch of Sharks hockey has seen me question the team more than I ever have during any other span of a regular season. A blown lead against Florida, a lazy game against Anaheim, and then a complete implosion against Dallas led me down a path I don't travel often.

Talking with a coworker yesterday, the old adage "at least we're getting the slump out of the way now" came up. Although that could be an apt point, it didn't hold true for the team last year. This isn't just a slump; the team is facing some major personnel issues and an overall lack of effort. That's not to say that these issues can't be fixed, but as of this point in the season, I'm not seeing it.

That's why tonight's game against Vancouver is, in my opinion, the most important game the Sharks will play this season. Plank wrote a telling article yesterday, highlighting the Sharks struggles against Western Conference opponents and the fact that Phoenix is gaining ground in the Pacific division race. Ideally, the Sharks would have cleaned up against the non playoff teams faced earlier in the week, and a loss against the Canucks would have done little to affect the team's collective psyche. Now, though, that's not the case.

If the Sharks don't show up tonight, I've got serious doubts about their chances for any modicum of postseason success.

The game does present itself with an opportunity, though. If the Sharks win tonight, I think it could be the turning point to their season. Vancouver is a solid team, and they'll punish the Sharks for each and every mistake they make, much like Dallas did on Tuesday night. If the Sharks don't come out hard, with effort, they'll get embarrassed. If that happens, look to this game as the one where the Sharks just couldn't put the season's toothpaste back in the tube.

We can discuss the deteriorating play of Nabokov after the Olympics, the curious tendency of McLellan to change line combos that have functioned all season (to the tune of a career year for Patrick Marleau), the refusal to keep up AHL star prospect Logan Couture until this critical point in the season (as it appears he's been called up for tonight's game), or Doug Wilson's inability to improve the defense at the trade deadline. I feel like we've covered these things time and time again.

The players on the ice have little control of the above. They do, however, control the level of effort, which in turn makes the problems above seem less severe. I want effort. I want this game to be close. I want it to be a 3-2 slug-fest where the Sharks have to work for every puck, win battles, fight for rebounds, crowd the neutral zone, and establish offensive flow. To me, that's the only way I know they're back in it. If they come out and dominate, I've seen that before. I want to watch them fight a game out. If they get embarrassed again, well, I don't want to think about it.

Moral of the story, this team has the talent to succeed, but unless they discover the necessity of playing a full 60 minutes or more in ALL GAMES, they're going to have a tough time making any kind of noise in the upcoming playoffs.

Last note: Dan Boyle should have been made captain during the off season. I can't get over the leadership he shows on and (apparently) off the ice. If there's any part of me that's confident in the Sharks right now, it's the part that knows Dan Boyle just won't let himself play below 100%, and he expects the same of his teammates.

Prediction: Sharks win 3-2. Goals by Thornton, Heatley, and Marleau. McLellan invents a machine that does in fact put toothpaste back in the tube. Makes millions.

Go Sharks.

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