Banging The Drums, The Doldrums

With a porous 1-2-3 start to December, the Sharks have had a whale of trouble finding the win column. Sure they've been picking up singles like David Duchovny before a big night on the town, but blown leads and uninspired play don't lead one to assume that those loser points can be seen as an efficacious remedy while this stretch eventually works itself out.

We'll have a quantitative look at some relevant statistics later this week. On the docket for today is just, well, whatever you want to call this. I call it the son of Jameson, and if that makes sense to you, then I consider you a dear friend.

  • In general I think it's good practice to avoid falling back on the venerable criticism of "lacking effort" when examining a losing streak as it may not always apply, but if it's good enough for the Captain then I guess it's good enough for me. Whether or not we're dealing with the kickback of a heavy road schedule to start the year or a case of subconsciously resting on the laurels of that early season success, it's hard to assert and defend the notion that San Jose has come out to play for sixty minutes a night. There's been waves of good, and waves of opposing teams imposing themselves on the Sharks for extended chunks of time-- if we consider this team one of the theoretical top-dogs in the Western Conference (which we obviously do), that's not a bright spot.
  • Joe Thornton is a world-class player, but his decision making with a minute remaining against Phoenix stuck out as a microcosm of the Sharks current ailments. Carrying the puck into the offensive zone he pulls up at the blueline, only to have the Phoenix defenseman do what any player worth a grain of salt would do-- pressure the puck carrier. Vulcanized rubber gets coughed up, cleared, and the Sharks don't have another chance the rest of the game. As much as the desire to hedge bets and state it's the product of a "puck-possesion" style, the fact of the matter is Thornton has to get that puck deep so the Sharks can use the extra man (Greiss was pulled around the 1:15 mark) to load up on bodies down low and win a puck battle. San Jose will never be able to emulate Detroit, at least with their current makeup of North American players. There's not nearly enough individual creativity on the roster to pull that style of play off. When the wins aren't coming you have to go back to the basics of a North-South game by chipping it in and engaging physically.
  • I'm not saying San Jose is without talent-- that would be the worst idea since Stephenie Meyer began her literary career. What I am saying is that the Sharks, over an extended period of time, can't get away with making the cute play, especially when they're struggling to win hockey games. The way this team is constructed puts a heavy emphasis on the system, and they're going to live and die by that system. Cutting backdoor in the offensive zone, far-side wingers generating speed in the neutral zone, making sure the forwards are working hard to open a passing lane between the circles to receive a breakout pass in the defensive zone. With the exception of Joe Thornton (who is a non-shooting threat; keep that in mind when reading on), there's a lack of dynamic puck handling in close quarters. The only Sharks you're going to see make opposing skaters look like grocery sticks are Marleau and Boyle, and even then it's more a product of speed down the wing where the defenseman gets caught with a bad pivot. When's the last time you saw someone attempt to toe drag?
  • In summation, get the fucking puck in deep./

Wasn't too happy with the lack of reaction I saw after Dan Boyle got run by Taylor Pyatt at the end of the game on Saturday, and this sort of ties in with the second point-- when the wins aren't coming you have to be looking for any sort of spark that can get you going, whether that's taking the body, competing in the corners, or defending your teammates. Boyle getting rocked into the boards was that potential spark, and alas, it has since been rendered nearly irrelevant. Whether or not the hit was legal (it was), or a product of a Dan Boyle miscue (it also was) doesn't matter at that point-- the incident occurs with time running out, Boyle is far and away your best defenseman right now, and you're on your way to dropping your fifth straight game in a row. Maybe it's too much to expect someone to go flying in there like Tie Domi, but hell, I'll take some Alex Semin Gumby arms any day of the week.

I understand Douglas Murray stated that it wasn't a good idea to go after Pyatt, and I agree with that to a point-- there's something to be said for avoiding a suspension and/or a fine. However, I think the situation on Saturday was one of those moments where you throw that to the wayside. I'm not channeling my inner Don Brennan and advocating going out there with the intent to injure, but there was an opportunity to manufacture some form of emotional stand to take into next game. 99% of the time I agree with The Swedish Behemoth in that situation. This time I think you see red before thinking with your head.

Days like these make you realize why you're such a big Bruce Springsteen fan. You can't start a fire without a spark, right now the Sharks are just dancing in the dark.

Ghost of Link Gaetz mentioned this in the comments, but it bears repeating-- Dany Heatley should under no circumstance be playing on the second line right now. It's like replacing Stevie Van Sandt with Tom Delonge, Roy Bittan with Keyboard Cat, Max Weinberg with Peter Criss, and expecting that ensemble to reach the same level of homogenity as the E Street Band.

That being said, I'm all for breaking the Burger line HTML up if it means a kickstart to get the team going--Setoguchi hasn't been impressive in the slightest since returning from injury, but freed himself up for three good scoring opportunities on Saturday. Those are going to eventually find themselves in the back of the net if his past performance is any indicator. Why not go back to what worked at the beginning of the year, with Marleau playing on Pavelski's wing and Setoguchi up with Thornton? There's nothing off the table right now in my opinion, and while McGinn has showed flashes of the 25-30 goal scorer he's going to eventually become, Setoguchi clicked on that top line last season. Throw that out there against Anaheim and see how it goes in the first twenty.
We're going to get into this later this week, but I'll be damned if it doesn't look like the Sharks may be over-reliant on their power play to generate goals. Even strength scoring hasn't picked up the slack in December, and as I've asserted, that's the most efficient way to win hockey games. Especially when it comes to The Months That Shall Not Be Named.

2.5. That's the amount of goals San Jose has given up, on a game by game average, in the month of December. Actually better than their season average ironically, and would put them at 7th in the NHL. That's "a hopeful or comforting prospect in the midst of difficulty" if I ever saw one.
Turns out we slid back into the top spot in the Western Conference with LA's regulation loss to the Vancouver Canucks. If I'm being facetious and ornery, I tie in the power play bullet point with this tidbit, and make some reference to how it reminds me of the end of last season when evens was an issue and the Presidents' Trophy was grabbed with a loss. We're not going to go that route today however.

This just in-- we did go that route.

As if deciding a professional game with a skills competition wasn't pathetic enough, it looks like doesn't count shootout losses when compiling a team's current "streak" on their official standings. Am I the last one to notice this? How insanely idiotic, in both respects.
I'm sticking with my guns from last week and recognizing that this current slide is the product of an 82 game NHL marathon. That being said, I don't buy the thought process that it's "good we get it out of the way now." Never made sense to me. It's not like there's a limited supply of losing streaks a team can experience throughout the course of a season.

While we're on the topic of potential logical fallacies, I don't really buy the idea that a lower seed in the playoffs is better for this team either. No matter where they finish (barring an 8 seed or something), the pressure to make a deep run is going to be there. So goes the burden of being The Dynasty That Never Was (Or At Least Hasn't Come to Fruition Quite Yet).

With that being said, the closing statement to this article from the supremely respected David Pollak did make me laugh. I even picked up some tinfoil.
With Dan Boyle likely to be playing at somewhere below 90% for the next few games, I just say you sit him. He's been banged up twice this season (broken thumb to start the year, foot at the 25 game mark) and there's no need to rush him back right now considering the long term ramifications of losing a player of his caliber. Let him rest and get healthy.

A win on Thursday would be excellent. Hopefully this four day layoff provides an opportunity to get the team's game back on track.

Go Sharks.