Struggling Sharks look to get back into the win column against the Dallas Stars
|15-10-1, 31 points||14-9-1, 29 points|
|7th in Western Conference||9th in Western Conference|
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Defending Big D
Dallas Morning News
When it rains, it pours. And when it pours, you get the feeling that the city of San Jose starts doing a lot of pouring as well.
Increased liquor store sales this week notwithstanding, it doesn't take a meteorologist to forecast what type of weather patterns the Sharks are currently experiencing-- cloudy, with a chance of hail, and a whole lot of uncertainty as to what happens next. A 1-4 record in their last five games, with their only win in that span coming in the shootout after a last minute goal from Ryane Clowe put the game into overtime, has some of us stocking up on canned goods and bottled water in an attempt to survive the storm.
These storms come yearly for the Sharks of course, a talented team that's prone to slip into mid-season struggles like they are a warm Snuggie. Dan Boyle's poor play is well-chronicled and all too real at this point, Martin Havlat's lack of sustained production is disappointing to see, Ryane Clowe's tendency to beat the puck around is uncharacteristic, Colin White hasn't played as well as we advertised he would, Jason Demers' season has been a roller coaster ride, and the team as a whole hasn't been meeting the lofty standards they set for themselves at the beginning of the season.
As we mentioned last weekend before the 5-3 loss to Florida, the Sharks look fine in the big picture but are currently lacking those small details you expect to find in a Stanley Cup caliber team. This isn't exclusive to the Sharks of course; fanbases across the League could go on for hours about their team's inadequacies but only come up with a tight elevator pitch on strengths, but it is something that bears repeating-- when the Sharks are struggling they have one hell of a time completing their passes in the neutral zone, which tends to make it seem as if they're chasing the puck all night.
Coupled with opposing defenses breaking down in front of the net and doing a good job of limiting second chances and that high-octane offense we've grown entitled to seeing blows a fuse and ends up in the auto-repair shop for two weeks.
There's sunshine creeping through the dark clouds however, and it started on Tuesday night against Minnesota.
When a team has 42 shots on net, 33 shots that were blocked, and 18 missed shots throughout the course of a night, you know they're doing something right-- 93 shot attempts in total, or 1.55 per minute, is a good blueprint to win hockey games. Many will beg to differ of course, stating there is a systemic flaw in the Sharks system that makes their shots less dangerous than other teams', but if you can wring that sort of effort out of a team every single night you are going to win a lot of hockey games.
It also bears mentioning that the Sharks, despite ending up on the wrong end of the scoreboard lately, have been holding their own in the scoring chance department. These numbers, compiled by the fine and illustrious Derek Tanabe who has been tracking scoring chances this season over at The Neutral, showcases this fact:
San Jose Sharks Previous Five Games at Even Strength
|Chance for ||Chance Against ||Shots for ||shots against |
|vs. Minnesota ||20 ||9 ||37 ||19 |
|vs. Florida ||12 ||9 ||25 ||23 |
|vs. Canadiens ||19 ||13 ||41 ||29 |
|@ Kings ||5 ||8 ||23 ||29 |
|vs. Canucks ||13 ||10 ||33 ||24 |
| TOTAL || 69 || 49 || 159 || 124 |
In other words, the Sharks have been playing opposing teams fairly well at even strength over the last five games. Score distortion is no doubt having some bearing on these totals, as teams who are trailing tend to put more shots on net compared to teams who are leading, but overall you can make the case that San Jose hasn't driven off a cliff into a complete free fall.
What they have done is fall asleep at the wheel at important moments and paid the consequences.
Another blemish that might not be the end of the world is the penalty kill, which currently sits at a disastrous 74.3%. That is dead last in the League, 30th with a bullet. Usually it would require a guy like Karl Rove to spin something that ungodly into a bright light at the end of the tunnel, but I'm feeling frisky today so let's give it a spin.
The Sharks have done a phenomenal job of staying out of the box this season by taking only 74 penalties, which ends up as the third best in the League once you adjust for games played. Their 19 goals against on the PK is currently tied for 15th in the NHL, and ever since transitioning into the 1-3 PK scheme (which we covered here), the Sharks have given up only 6 goals against in 11 games played. Furthermore, the special teams battle has only cost the Sharks two wins this season-- against Vancouver and Minnesota the Sharks lost by their special teams differential, with PK goals against against making the difference in the final score.
Have you had enough already? Yeah, me too. The PK is clearly a huge issue for this team, and one that needs to be addressed by GM Doug Wilson at some point this year. That much is clear, even if some positive thinking can lessen the pain of what has become a parade of red lights.
However, what I am saying is this-- the Sharks aren't victims of systemic issues that can never be fixed. They have the pieces in-house to turn this thing around right now, and a bad five game stretch isn't enough to sound the alarm and run for the fire exit. A dominating overall effort against Minnesota is a step in the right direction and should help lay the foundation for a better result tonight.
Their first meeting against the Dallas Stars since that slobber knocker of game on November 19th, which saw both teams combine for 100 penalty minutes, should provide all the motivation this team needs to get back on the right track. Dallas has been kicking around .500 lately after escaping from a five game losing streak in mid-November, and the loss of Kari Lehtonen to his annual injury means the Sharks will be facing the much less imposing Andrew Raycroft in net tonight. The pieces are in place for the Sharks to come out with their guns a blazing, no doubt buoyed by the boos that will rain down tonight in the midst of the National Anthem.
A win is as simple as finishing their chances and managing the neutral zone with crisp tape to tape passes.
Even if the Sharks are in one of their classic ruts where they make the simplest things look so damn hard.
Prediction: Sharks win 3-2. Goals by McGinn, Marleau, and Burns. Martin Havlat shoots the puck on net five times, but his unlucky and unsustainable 1.9 shooting percentage (kind of impressive at this stage of the year, really) takes at least one more game before it begins to regress to the mean.