The Sharks head to the playoffs for the second year in a row beginning on either Wednesday or Thursday. They will play either the Edmonton Oilers or the Anaheim Ducks on the road in what will be a difficult series given San Jose’s depleted roster and recent run of play.
While San Jose entered a tough series against the Kings to begin the playoffs last year (yes, I remember not picking the Sharks last year, please remind me again) the team was quite good. The Sharks aren’t as good this year by ... well, just about any metric you care to look at. They aren’t scoring as much, their power-play is worse, Martin Jones hasn’t played as well at even strength and injuries to Logan Couture and Joe Thornton are huge concerns.
If there is good news it’s that neither Edmonton nor Anaheim are world beaters. The Ducks have played better lately, but I’m not convinced the Randy Carlyle coached side is all that dangerous. Regardless, San Jose had an opportunity to close out the division against these teams and on the final day of the season will sit at home and watch as they battle for the Pacific crown.
The Sharks are not a great hockey team right now; I’d be lying if I said I thought they were a contender for the Stanley Cup. That’s not pessimism, it’s a frank assessment of a team that has struggled mightily over the last quarter of the season. At the end of last season I didn’t have confidence in the Sharks but I had hope. This season I have concerns. A lot of them.
My biggest concern lies in the long-term health of Couture and Thornton. Both plan to play in the first round, it sounds like. I hope they’re actually ready to do so. While Couture skated the past few days, the Sharks won’t even comment on whether Thornton participated; that’s not a great sign. The worst thing that could happen is either player getting injured further in a series that just doesn’t matter that much.
So as the Sharks gear up for the playoffs, the tone is distinctly different than usual. Given the injuries sustained and the recent play displayed the expectations are understandably lower (at least for me; set your own, obviously). I hope head coach Pete DeBoer gives guys like Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc ample playing time — these are the players who will have to carry the team in the coming years, so give them a chance to do it now.
If the team wins a round, two rounds, more? Great. If not? Hey, they’re not expected to anyway. After everything that has happened in the past few weeks... let’s just survive the first round without any other key players suffering injuries. This season hasn’t gone the way anyone hoped, but there’s still time for positives to be taken out of it.