In life you invariably become too close to a subject and cannot form a rational opinion about said subject. It requires a break, even just a small one, to recoup and be able to come with fresh ideas and a new outlook.
This is the exact strategy I deployed over the past three to four weeks with San Jose. Much like Ross and Rachel, who took a break to realize they loved each other. I took a break to reaffirm my opinions about the 2016-17 Sharks, except I didn’t immediately sleep with the Ducks.
Hopefully some of you noticed my lack of content, for which I’m grateful. I decided it was time to step away from San Jose and watch from a distance. I tuned into the radio broadcast for a period, checked box scores, read some recaps, and saw Beauty and the Beast, which was pretty good. Generally, I took myself out of the day to day machinations of everything Sharks, save for Twitter where I got basic news and saw people get mad online about this, that and the other thing in San Jose. These are basically my findings on our beloved Shorks.
First things first, everyone freaking breathe. Really get a deep inhale and BREATHE. This is not the end of the world and the Sharks aren’t falling into some sort of New Jersey Devils like death spiral to the basement. No, the Sharks are still good.
Let’s recap who exactly this team is. This is a Stanley Cup Finalist veteran team who has one goal in mind and that is winning the Cup. This is a hockey team who we have collectively praised as extremely deep, dangerous, lock down on defense, and have a goalie with the ability to get super hot.
None of these things have changed. Literally none. In fact, they have gotten deeper with the addition of Hansen, meaning DeBoer can run a very dangerous four-line team. The defense is still anchored by Burns and Vlasic, and even with a Vlasic decline (injury decline?) the defense still boasts a top six worthy of the Cup. Martin Jones is still an above average goalie that could go full Cam Ward and become an impenetrable wall in the playoffs. These things are all true and will remain true into April.
Now recently San Jose has flat-lined, and have a sweet six game losing streak to show for it. Let’s break into what that losing streak means and how it might predict what’s in store over the final nine games.
The first thing we need to realize is that four of these games were part of a dastardly schedule wonk that had two back to backs on the road in a six day span. You would be hard pressed to find me a team that wins all of those or doesn’t look like the Avalanche for half of them. It was never going to be pretty heading into Nashville and Minnesota.
I will readily admit losing 6-1 and 7-2 back to back is less than ideal, but so is getting shelled for 10 goals like Montreal or getting roasted 7-0 by an inferior team like Florida is to Chicago. Weird though, we still seem to think they are good teams. Has anyone else noticed that Minnesota has won a whopping three (!) of their last 14 games? But Minnesota is still seen as this big bad threat in the west.
What I am trying to illustrate above is the context of the situation. Everyone has short memories, so the most recent stretch of games is the context for which we base the club. I am very guilty of this, as I forgot that before this six game skid, San Jose was winners of four of their last five, including an impressive takedown of Washington. As of 18 days ago, San Jose was the cat’s ass.
Recency bias comes into play, too. What’s the difference between a six game slide in November vs. March? The answer is nothing. It is exactly the same thing but one comes in a five-letter month as opposed to an eight-letter month. If the Sharks went for a slide earlier in the season then “battled back” we would be fawning over how much tenacity and fight they’ve showed. However, since the Sharks were just flat out good for most of the year and hit a down spot in March, we have decreed they are super broken and will be an easy out.
This is not to say the Sharks aren’t without their warts. That power play? Woof. Brent Burns not scoring anymore? Probably needs to turn it around. However, we look at these things much more critically because it is the end of the season.
It is important to remember that San Jose hasn’t played in a “playoff atmosphere,” that is to say a pretty meaningful game, in a while. They have been Pacific front-runners most of the season and the division isn’t exactly the Metro. In my opinion, a veteran team like this has pulled the classic coast into the playoffs strategy.
Every Shark knows they are making the dance, and every Shark knows the playoffs are vastly more important than finishing first or second in the division. Do I think the coast and then turn it up in the playoffs strategy is ideal? No, I would rather them come in smooth and polished and running roughshod over the league.
However, the NHL is a league where home ice matters the least and we have seen teams win from every playoff slot. The Kings were masters of the flail around and go into chill mode and finish 8th and go on a Cup run. The Blackhawks were fourth. Let us not forget San Jose was a tidy sixth last year.
All of this is to say winning the Pacific doesn’t matter. No matter where the Sharks finish they will have to face a combo of the Flames, Oilers, and Ducks. Is any of that truly a scary proposition? Not really, as I think it is a comfortable assertion that San Jose is definitively better than those three teams.
Looking forward, what happens if San Jose finishes the season on a four-game win streak? All of the talking heads will scream momentum and the hockey populace will talk of how the Sharks are looking like contenders. No one will remember the six game skid, as it is one of the many downs in an up and down season. San Jose just happened to time one of their downs with the last 15 games of the season.
So everyone, step back from the ledge. It’s okay to feel the doom and gloom sometimes but the Sharks are fine. This isn’t a team that doesn’t understand windows are closing or that they aren’t good enough. This is a team that knows what the task at hand is and come puck drop of Game One, they will find that next gear. I hope that I have soothed some fears in the Bay Area and my sabbatical thoughts have brought calm. I believe noted District Attorney Harvey Dent once told Gotham City, “The night is darkest just before the dawn” and it looks pretty bright in June.