Sharks Gameday: Something In The Air
|13-8-9, 35 points||19-7-6, 44 points |
|8th in Western Conference ||1st in Western Conference |
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You can feel it brewing can't you? The coming storm of superlatives and dire proclamations, questions about the team's character and ability to win in May.
Back to back losses to potential postseason teams tend to do that to a fanbase, especially one as mercurial as San Jose's. For as much as we hear forms of, "It doesn't matter until the playoffs" from various sources, both within the Sharks organization and outside of it, there's still an open wound here. It breeds insecurity. And that insecurity breeds hand-wringing.
This isn't to say the effort on Wednesday deserves commendment-- catching it on Tivo late Thursday night probably wasn't the most effective use of my time during finals week, and I'm sure many of you can identify with that. Folding laundry or playing gin rummy at grandma's house may have higher exchange values in the grand scheme of things.
And yet, in examining the broader picture of the Sharks current slide, I can't find myself to crank out one of these bad boys yet. In fact, even their current record against potential playoff teams doesn't come off as especially pertinent on a macro level. There's still plenty of time until then to iron out wrinkles and formulate game plans. A single loss in December to the Kings, Flames, or Blackhawks, while hurting spectacularly on the emotional level, comes off as more Joseph McCarthy than Nostradamus when we attempt to extrapolate outside of the current run. At the end the of the day, what you have is an opportunity for standings points, not a prophecy of how things will eventually shake out. Yes, those points haven't been coming, and yes, these types of games are a good litmus test of how the team is currently playing, but let's not lose our view of the broader picture when going through an inevitable rough patch. The post-Olympic break is really the moment where you dig in your heels and ask yourself the hard questions.
Eighty two games require that. It doesn't mean we bow our heads and let Pavelski off the hook for letting Kopitar walk in unmolested to the slot on the third goal, or question the long term validity of the defense as we have since the start of this season-- it's just that we have to be careful not to cry wolf until the wolves are actually at the door.
That being said, they're definitely creeping up the hill. We're one porous weekend away from bringing in the heavy artillery, as this upcoming back to back against Pacific Division opponents should be an early indicator of how San Jose will be able to handle adversity. Do they fold the cards, or come out and make a statement at home? They're one of four teams (TOR, PHI, NYR) who have yet to win a game when heading into the third period down at least a goal, and while the league-wide winning percentage in that area is admittedly very low, it's not a positive sign for one of the top teams in the league.
I really don't have as much time for this as I would like, but here's something that put a bur in my britches yesterday:
"Absolutely," he said. "You want to have the third goal, you want to have the first goal, you want to have the fourth goal. But do you consider this a bad goal? I don’t know. I would argue that. But absolutely I would love to have it back [emphasis added]."
-Evgeni Nabokov via Working The Corners
Full disclosure-- I'm of the school of thought that talk is cheap. Quotes from players are beneficial to a point, but ultimately, what occurs on the ice is the only thing I pay attention to. Whether or not the Captain rips his team in the media or expresses displeasure with a poor performance following a loss holds little weight. Accountability only goes as far as the dressing room walls. The only thing they're accountable for to the public is winning hockey games.
At any rate, last week Nabokov pointed the finger at Vlasic for a late goal that eventually resulted in a Sharks loss to the St. Louis Blues. The above quote, saddled alongside further comments in the linked article, come off as poor form. Shades of last postseason where Nabokov passed the buck.
The issue here isn't whether or not Nabokov should speak to the media about these matters, nor is it the fact that he is attempting to relieve some cognitive dissonance for a shot that should have been stopped. That's a necessity in the delicate emotional balance between an effective goaltender and one who is playing without confidence.
The issue here is that he opened Pandora's Box by calling out Vlasic a week ago, and failed to take responsibility for Brown's goal. These things go both ways.
Jay Leach in tonight, and the bottom lines get a little shaken up. Frankly I don't think Mitchell has earned his third line minutes up to this point and would prefer to see McLaren or Ortmeyer in that role.
Should be interesting to see how Leach fares. I think you probably slide Vlasic up with Boyle and have the young Derek Joslin skate with veteran Rob Blake, leaving Huskins to play on the bottom pair alongside Leach.
Prediction: Sharks win 3-2. Goals by Pavelski, Vlasic, and McGinn.