SAN JOSE CA - JANUARY 11: The Toronto Maple Leafs bench celebrates an empty net goal in the final minute of their victory over the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion on January 11 2011 in San Jose California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Tonight's loss, which represents a season-high fifth straight for San Jose, was a crushing one. However, I'm assuming that the Sharks would gladly take the loss over an injury to their half-season MVP Logan Couture.
It appears that the team may have gotten both.
On a dirty hit in the second, Colton Orr stuck his knee out and collided with Logan Couture, who was left in a heap at center ice. In this writer's opinion, the Toronto Maple Leafs' hit-man should have received a major penalty for the hit, a hit which should probably be considered as grounds for a suspension. The severity of the injury is not yet known, but Couture did not return to the game. Any time missed by the Sharks rookie would be a huge blow to the team, who is already in a straight free fall. With Pavelski also out, the Sharks are extremely thin down the middle and as a forward group overall.
The Sharks, again, generated scoring chances. But, as has been the case over the course of the losing streak, the 42 shots generated didn't appear to be near enough. Patrick Marleau scored twice during the contest, but the defense played a less than inspired third period, surrendering four goals in those twenty minutes. In third periods this season, the Sharks are a ghastly -17 in the goal differential column.
A contributor to that -17, especially over the last few games, is the Sharks' special teams play. The power play has been atrocious over the span of losses. San Jose has just one goal in their last eighteen man advantage situations, a disturbing statistic for a team which has relied heavily on the power play in the past. The penalty kill, although not as atrocious as the effort on the man advantage, has allowed a power play goal in three of the last five games. On the season, the team is clicking at just 81.1%. That's good for a middling 19th league-wide.
The loss of Pavelski over the past few weeks hurts those units, as will the potential loss of Logan Couture. However, this team has too much talent to float around mediocrity in either discipline. Something has to give, eventually.
Where do the Sharks go from here? That's a fantastic question, but it's one that nobody has an immediate solution for. Even though they're doing most things well, the losses seemed to have pushed confidence in the dressing room to an all time low. The players currently find themselves eleventh in the West with three games in hand over twelfth place St. Louis, and have put together a string of losses in which the players of the ice have been unable to parlay effort into results. That's what matters, at this point in the season. Effort alone won't cut it, especially with the playoff race as tight as Joe Thornon's underpants. That's pretty tight man, that's pretty tight.
Does this team need a shakeup? Don't hold your breath for a significant one, as none of the organizations marquee players will find themselves wearing another uniform this year. It's just not going to happen, especially considering that many have clauses preventing as much in their contracts. Other pieces may move though, including pieces which the fan base may be unhappy to lose long-term. However, we've been highlighting the organization's need for an impact defenseman for the better part of two years now, and after tonight's loss that need is just as evident as ever. A move needs to happen.
If you ask us, that move should come sooner than later, if not to simply change the dynamic in a locker room which has been depressed since Christmas. Unlike last season, when you could argue that the roster was sufficient enough to win a Cup, this team is flawed considerably on the defensive end. Dan Boyle, usually a top pairing defenseman proficient in all zones, has almost become a liability. I don't mean to disparage the talents of the all-star defenseman, but it's a transformation he's admitted over the last few weeks. We can only assume that this is due to the minutes he's played; talent, and more importantly the ability to read plays, doesn't dissolve so quickly. Boyle has been a minus player in each of the team's last five games. He leads the league in minutes per game. Those minutes are taking their toll.
Doubt has infiltrated the Sharks locker room, and getting rid of that doubt will be a tough task. Add in that your leading goal scorer and most consistent player could be on the shelf for some time, and it's even harder to leave tonight behind and look towards Edmonton on Thursday.