Plank, Counter-Plank pits Pessimistic Plank (the morbidly depressive pundit who can't stop worrying) versus Peppy Plank (the ten year old kid sitting on the couch who believes with all his heart that this year is always going to be the goddamn year baby). Today we (literally, me, myself, and I) look at the Sharks playoff chances.
Plank The Peppy Pastor: Free from my shackles at last! While you've been running around this season spewing gloom and doom from the depths of your decapitated soul, I've had a whale of a time sipping Mai Tais in Tijiuana with some friends of mine. Their craft? Enjoying the finer delicacies of life, specifically that part where you realize that every day the sun comes up is another day you can smile. Sharks are going to the playoffs. Mark it down.
Plank The Pessimistic Panderer: Makes sense that you're in a good mood then. Let me fill you in on what has happened since your brain took a vacation-- Sharks can't hold a third period lead to save their life, the top line has been wracked with inconsistency all season long, the blueline hasn't seen a single upgrade, and the team is mired in the dregs of the Western Conference fighting for an eight seed. While you've been lazing around this season producing fuzzy bunnies and rainbows from your nether regions, I've been struggling to avoid sipping cyanide laced cocktails and watching Red Wings games just so I can see how this game of hockey is meant to be played. Sharks are missing the playoffs. The writing is on the wall.
Peppy Plank: Alright Bill Shakespeare, tone down the theatrics. Pavelski and Marleau are both shooting well below their career average, and the blueline still hasn't been as bad as you believed it would be heading into the year. You complained all last season about the blueline as well, and the Sharks ended up in the Western Conference Finals where they lost to a red-hot goaltender. What goalie was that again? Oh yes my dearest of devils, the very netminder who has taken over the starting role in San Jose and has been lights out in January. Their six game losing streak this month is what has really hurt them in the standings, but recent returns outside of last night have indicated it has all begun to turn around.
Pessimistic Plank: Recent returns? If you want an indication of where the Sharks are at right now, look at their entire body of work. It's been inconsistency since day one. The team has failed to click on all cylinders for any lengthy period of time, as the losses and wins have come and gone like a Trade Deadline rental. San Jose has roughly $21MM tied up in their three top players, and with limited cap space along with a lack of moveable pieces that have sufficient salaries to clear enough room, will have to be very tedious with their acquisitions. Furthermore, I would argue that the lack of a blueliner has resulted in all of those blown third period leads-- the Sharks just don't have a defensive unit that's built to handle holding a lead. And once April rolls around, that's going to be the difference between a first round date and a tee time.
Peppy Plank: It's hard for me to imagine this team missing the playoffs. The level of talent on the team is too great, Doug Wilson has consistently acquired the pieces necessary to put the Sharks into contention every single year, and they're just a string of wins away from gaining a little bit of breathing room. The tune from the fans has always been "It doesn't matter what happens until the playoffs", so why all the hand-wringing now? Fact of the matter is the veteran core is too proud and talented to let that opportunity slip away. And when all is said and done, is there not a more dangerous lower seed than San Jose? I mean, seriously, who would actually want a first round date with a hungry Sharks team that has learned how to deal with adversity this entire season?
Pessimistic Plank: Self-inflicted adversity. The injuries have been there, but by and large, the core has stayed intact for the vast majority of the season. Hard to pin any specific period of inconsistency on anything but the performance as a team as a whole. I don't buy the argument home-ice advantage is something to be poo-pooed away. Teams always allude to the importance of getting their first two home dates on their playoff schedule. Provided the Sharks do manage to squeek their way into the postseason, they're looking at a date with Vancouver or Detroit in the very first round. Those are two excellent teams who have displayed their dominance nearly all year long. They are extremely deep on the front end. And if defense wins championships, there's no doubt that their respective bluelines are much more advantageous to the rigors of playoff hockey than San Jose's. It's barely even a question worth posing.
Peppy Plank: Why do you rule out an upgrade so easily? Wilson has been looking to upgrade the blueline since the offseason, and it's clear that the Sharks would be much better off if they upgrade that part of their roster. On a team with this much talent, they're literally one move away from vaulting into the upper echelon of the Conference and making some serious noise once the playoffs begin.
Pessimistic Plank: Your optimism blinds you young Blueskieswalker. Until San Jose can put together a good month of error-free hockey, I'm just not sol. Give me an upgrade on the blueline as well-- as long as the top line continues to be mercurial, and someone other thanor establish some sustained scoring pop, this team isn't going anywhere. Take a look at their schedule in February. Heavy on the road games, light on the home ice. It's going to be a rough ride to start out February, and if they falter, any improvement in March will be too late.
Peppy Plank: With the Western Conference this tight, San Jose still has time. Thirty games left in the season is a lot of time left for a Conference that will likely determine its final playoff picture on the last week of the year. WIth the team healthy, and an upgrade on the blueline DW is sure to obtain, the future is bright. Past performance does not guarantee future results. This is merely another tool to use for motivation.
Pessimistic Plank: Don't Stop Believing until the believing becomes unbelievable. San Jose doesn't inspire any belief right now. Put me down for an eight seed, with a first round loss to the Canucks or Red Wings in five games.
Peppy Plank: Five seed, second straight Western Conference Finals appearance. After that it becomes a game of injuries, and even the optimist in me can't foresee the unknowable. But the Sharks will get there. They've already begun to lay the groundwork for a run of epic proportions.
Pessimistic Plank: I may not share your opinions on the team, but I must say, you are a rather dashing fellow. I hope I have my library card because I'm definitely checking you out.
Peppy Plank: Right back at you compadre. You've aged like a fine wine since I last met me, or you last met you, or however this works. Let's continue this conversation over some Mountain Dew and Jack In The Box 99 cent tacos.
Pessimistic Plank: Add in re-runs of The Hidden Temple and you've got yourself a deal.
Peppy Plank: I'm holding Kirk Fogg against his will in my backyard, clad in a skimpy Blue Barracudas tee as we speak. One step ahead of ya pal.