Sharks looking good in the big picture but still need polish on the small details



7:30 PST
13-8-4, 30 points 14-7-1, 29 points
3rd in Eastern Conference 7th in Western Conference
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On Frozen Pond

Twenty two games into the season and I can't quite seem to figure out how to approach this Sharks team.

On the one hand you have a roster that is so undeniably loaded with talent that it becomes easy to overlook the bad things they have a tendency to do. The slow first periods, the inability to complete a pass in the neutral zone, the mercurial play of the first and third pairings. These things happen often but the talent on the team allows you to look past those gripes and put it in context. Look at the big picture if you will, even if those tiny pixels composing the image are warped and fuzzy.

The Sharks are good, probably even great. There is no denying that. Because if you flip all of their inadequacies on their back, belly up for the whole world to see, they're still better than just about each team they come across-- every single team in the National Hockey League undergoes the same exact type of pains on a weekly basis. I used to think nobody was perfect besides Gustavo Fring, but then he went along and played right into Walter White's hands and ended up in the morgue. Why? Because he had to do things himself. He had to be the one to see things through. He had to be perfect.

Perfection has a price-- you become invested in success, and that investment causes you to miscalculate things you would pick up on if you weren't so invested in your own success. But without investing in your own success, you can never reach perfection. If you look at the big picture too much you miss the small details that could be of the utmost importance, but if you obsess over the small details you fall into the trap of missing the big picture. It's a delicate balancing act, not just as a player but as a person who follows a specific team.

Take Thursday's night game against Montreal.

San Jose gives up a goal when David Desharnais beats the best defensive forward on the team (Joe Thornton) and passes it through the crease where Erik Cole beats the best defensive defenseman on the team (Marc-Edouard Vlasic). You look at that and say, "Damn, Thornton's a -3 tonight, what a terrible game for him" when in fact Thornton didn't really have a particularly poor game at all. He forces the puck to the outside on the first goal and watches as an out of position Antti Niemi doesn't get any help from Dan Boyle before Michael Cammalleri tips it in, and gets caught out on the ice when Joe Pavelski makes a brutal turnover high in the zone on the second goal. He was fine in the offensive zone, generated chances for his teammates, and kept plugging away like he's done all season.

And then there is how San Jose responded to Montreal's third goal that put the Sharks down 3-2 with 11:14 left in the game. Sure the game tying goal by Ryane Clowe with under two minutes left was spectacular theatre, and well-deserved considering his struggles (and that of the second line) as of late, but all in all I thought the Sharks performed horrendously in response to the goal. Montreal was clogging the neutral zone like nobody's business, the Sharks were chipping the puck in and watching it get chipped right back out, passes weren't connecting, scoring opportunities weren't there in the least-- to put it mildly, the Canadiens had that game all but wrapped up before Clowe came up big. San Jose was lucky or blessed or in the right place at the right time or whatever, and they came away with a win.

Those two examples say two important things. The big picture will say Thornton had a poor game when the small details say he actually played pretty well; concurrently, the big picture will say the Sharks gutted out a win in the dying minutes of the third when the small details show that they performed poorly in response to Montreal's third goal. Which one is more important-- the big picture, or the small details?

The big picture says the Sharks are a great team, top five in the League, but the small details state that they have issues that will be exposed in a seven game series against the toughest competition in the Western Conference. This isn't novel or new or groundbreaking, nor is it an issue exclusive to San Jose (watch any team and that will be made abundantly clear), but it is important in that you begin to realize just how prolonged this regular season is and how that length of time tells you some important things about how good the Sharks are but tells you very little about their eventual success in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

At its core the regular season is the big picture. It's the true indicator of how good a team actually is because it gives you so much more data to work with and irons out all of the statistical anomalies that take place on a weekly basis. The playoffs are like the week before the quarter ends at the office. The playoffs are the small details-- they show you who can elevate their game and ride that adrenaline to the promised land, but they usually can't tell you who has the most overall game in the first place. The playoffs are all about those small details.

What I'm looking for tonight is the small details. It starts with the first goal of the game, of which San Jose has only had seven this season, and ends with the Sharks sucking the life out of the Panthers by playing physical, boring, defensively-sound hockey. It's been awhile since the Sharks have had one of those truly dominating games where everything is firing on all cylinders; in a game like tonight where the stakes are low and the bad blood is minimal, there's always the threat of the energy not being there. Hey, it happens.

But when the small details have been somewhere around room temperature for the last four games, putting in a complete effort for 60 minutes is the best way to get things up to boiling again.

Prediction: Sharks win 5-2. Goals by Pavelski, Boyle, Havlat, Couture, and McGinn. Brian Campbell gets booed while everyone kind of looks around and wonders why.