After three good wins, the Sharks manage to lose two critical road games to Anaheim and Phoenix, and they are back out of the playoff picture. We can go over what they did wrong, how Mike Smith is the second coming of Ken Dryden or whatever, but the fact is this: if the Sharks can’t beat Dallas and L.A. for the next four games, they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs anyway. Should they manage to limp in without winning those four games, they will almost certainly get crushed by whomever they face in the first round, playing either St. Louis or Vancouver with no home ice.
Although the Sharks didn’t play, last night was a great night for San Jose. The Hawks lost, 5 points behind with only one game in hand. The Coyotes lost, Breezy giving up 4 goals on 29 shots. And the Wings won, which in our Convoluted Calculus of Counterparties™ is actually a good thing. As loyal readers and listeners know, I want to avoid the Red Wings in the first round at all costs. Seriously, if it meant the Sharks had to dump the last six games of the season, I might be able to work up an argument for that. But as it happens, it’s not required. The Winged Wheel is on fire. They’ve won six straight, and are 11-1-1 in their last 13 games.
Detroit is now only one point behind Nashville. Given they have three (!) more games against the Blue Jackets and one against Philly (plus one against Nashville), I’d say their chances are very good they end up the five seed. My earlier prediction of the Sharks facing the Wings in the first round is getting dimmer by the day. With Phoenix faltering just a bit, I’m hoping this gives the Sharks an easy path to the #1 seed, hopefully facing the reeling Avs in the first round.
Speaking of reeling, how ’bout them Hawks? Their early season strategy of “who needs a decent goalie? We’ll just give up 20 shots a game and win anyway” isn’t working out so hot lately. Although they still lead the lead in shots allowed with 24.9, they’ve given up more than that in eight out of their last ten. One of the games where they did better than their average, they lost. To Columbus. Niemi got most of those starts, so does this mean they will go back to Huet? I’m sure Coach Q is just thrilled he has such a thoroughbred stable of goaltenders to choose from.
So the Sharks seem to be back in a good position, actually, a great one. They have a bit of competition from below in Phoenix, whose trapping style could easily eat up some teams struggling for motivation late in the season. They have Detroit on a run, destined for a seeding far from the Sharks’ first-round gun-sights. And Chicago’s once-impenetrable armor is now looking like Swiss cheese.
It’s a great opportunity to continue the run tonight against Dallas, who are all but eliminated from postseason play. No Modano means no Shark-killer. I say the win streak continues. Look for the podcast to be posted tonight sometime after the game.
After some disappointing games against key opponents, the Sharks rebound again with strong wins on the road against Los Angeles and Phoenix. But the Dudes still have to break down the loss against the Red Wings. After addressing some listener emails, Mike and Doug do a little roleplay with Doug playing Doug Wilson, and Mike playing other GMs around the league entertaining some trade offers.
After winning a close one last night in LA and semi-redeeming themselves for laying two eggs on home ice last week, the Sharks might have some fans feeling pretty good. So then why do I fully expect the Coyotes to dump us like Conan O’Brien at an 11:30pm timeslot?
Jay Leno is the Steve Ott of Late Night.
Because this is the Sharks pattern. Up then down. Up then down. Winning two tough back to back games on the road would be a major statement to each other, as teammates, that they are ready for adversity and capable of beating two teams who have given them fits all year long. Last night the Sharks got solid PK work, a hard luck but hard fought performance from their second line, great goaltending from Nabby and two goals from two superstars in Boyle and Heatley. A solid effort against a good team.
Now do it again.
The Coyotes are going to play hard and are extremely well coached by Dave Tippett, but aren’t we one of the best teams in hockey? Don’t we have a Jack Adams nominee for a coach? Then go out there and kick this mediocre team in the Vrbata.
Mike and I have recently questioned Brad Staubitz’s presence on the Sharks roster, and of course he responds with his best game of the season last night, almost tipping in Boyle’s goal in the 1st period – but let’s not get carried away here. McLellan was so impressed that he didn’t play Staubitz for one single second in the third period, while Scott Nichol got seven shifts. There’s a ton of differences between Staubby and Nichol in my book – Nichol is one of the top faceoff men in the entire NHL and one of our best PK’ers. Staubitz is one of the best at taking a penalty. Here’s the thing – if Staubitz didn’t beat the tar out of the hated Tootoo last year, would you even know his name from Dennis McCauley?(BTW, McCauley is an enforcer for the Worcester Sharks…)
Doug Wilson and his staff met last week in Worcester to discuss the organization and was profiled last night at the first intermission. I thought his comments were pretty standard, but his admiration for Couture and his development was evident. He called him “one of the best players in the AHL”. Would it be far fetched to think that Couture could make this same contribution for San Jose in the playoffs, or at the very least, in 2010-11? This could be the most important player to watch come trade deadline, because his presence and success gives the Sharks the option to trade some forward depth to get help on the blueline.
That would be the Kings and ‘Yotes, who the Sharks face tonight and tomorrow. This season, the Sharks are 3-3-2 against L.A. and Phoenix, with all three wins coming in OT or the shootout. Just to recap, in 8 games against the top two divisional rivals, those rivals have gotten at least one point in every game. I thought I was being all smart when I found that, then it turns out it was printed in the Merc this morning. And I said “more teams”, because we faced yet another team with our number this past Saturday, the Detroit Red Wings. Sharks lost 2-1 in the shootout at the Joe on November 5, and the dispiriting 4-1 beatdown on Saturday night. If you listened to the podcast last week, you’d know that I predicted the Sharks would face one of those three teams in the first round (with Doug sure it would be the hated Detroit), and now we know the combined record against those three teams is 3-5-2. Not good.
So what are the Sharks to do? First of all, forget about all this number crap, and go out and win some games. These teams are all below us in the standings, and while dwelling on season records is fun (or depressing) for mere bloggers like me, it’s not going to help Setoguchi put pucks in the net. And Lord knows he needs to start doing that. Pavelski and Seto have 0 points combined this calendar year, and if reading the tea leaves helps, Malhotra is going to be on the shelf for a while. Couple that with the salary cap problems translating into Jamie McGinn flying to Boston and back twice a week, and we’ve got ourselves a bit of a scoring problem.
Second of all, we need to pick on these teams’ worst players. Right now, that’s Ivanans, Brandon Segal, and Scott Parse for the Kings, and Paul Bissonette, Lauri Korpikoski, and Peter Mueller for the Coyotes. Of course, if the Sharks insist of throwing out Shelley, Staubitz, and McCarthy, we are as suseptible to that tactic as anyone, but since the big bully is down in the dumps right now, it’s time to pick on the weaker kids.
If we look at the glass as half full right now, which is tough to do, we can say the Sharks have plenty of time to turn this boat around, and get those matchup records going our way between now and April. This week will be a big part of that.
Well, I guess we know what John Davidson’s New Year’s resolution was.
Poor Andy Murray. Wasn’t this guy just praised for leading this team to a playoff run and rewarded with a Jack Adams nomination six months ago? What a difference a year makes…and the worst home record in the NHL. My advice to John Davidson? Avoid more panic moves like this one, big guy. Wait for someone to make an even bigger panic move, say, Bob Murray trying to save his skin by canning Randy Carlyle sometime in the next two months (my bold New Years Prediction) and hire that guy to give this team a personality in the off season.
How about a few more bold predictions in 2010 before the Sharks tangle with the Oilers tonight.
Prediction #2 (since Carlyle was #1): The Dallas Stars will be shaken up at the deadline, not stirred. The new GM has been suspiciously quiet, and I think he won’t be able to help himself by dealing Turco, Lehtinen, Brunnstrom, and even the legend himself, Mike Modano. Why not deal him to a team that has a real Cup shot and give him a final shot at glory? He’d look pretty good in a J.R. role on the Blackhawks, just saying.
Prediction #3: Dean Lombardi is going to add another veteran player down the stretch to make the Kings even more dangerous and Frolov will be his bait. I’m thinking something like getting Jeff Carter from the Flyers for Frolov and a 2010 2nd round pick. This gives the Flyers some salary cap flexibility while not killing their playoff hopes, and the Kings just get better with Carter.
Prediction #4: The Coyotes will fall harder than Tara Reid at Carlos and Charlie’s. I’m thinking they disappear from the playoff picture all together. They’ve played their hockey cards and the verdict is boredom.
Prediction #5: The Sharks, after much deliberation, will not pull a deadline deal for the first time in four years. Even though I still think we need another D, the Sharks and Doug Wilson will be the Gambler the other way and will take their chances and hold onto their 1st round pick.
Someone beats the ever loving snot out of Jacques tonight at the Tank. I’m thinking it might be Ryane Clowe who does the honors. Let’s start 2010 with a big win.
If everything wasn’t bad enough, Taylor Pyatt had to play the Grinch. As the clock ran out, he hammered Dan Boyle against the boards and it sure didn’t look good. Boyle stayed down on the ice and needed help off the ice, clearly favoring one leg.
Here’s video of my reaction.
This is the crossroads of the Sharks season right here and now, folks. If Dan Boyle has a boo-boo and is out for two weeks, I can climb off the roof – but (gulp) if he is going to miss major time with a knee injury (which it looked like that’s what it was, his knee) we can kiss Lord Stanley good-bye. Why? Because Dan Boyle is the MVP of this team, the secret sauce on their Big Mac, the booty on their collective J-Lo. Boyle is irreplaceable by a call-up from Worcester and by almost anyone in the league.
As we wait by the chimney with care to see if Santa is going to give us our MVP back or screw us with a major injury to Danny Boy, here’s an interesting stat that is sure to cheer you up. Since November 1st, the Sharks have lost four games that they were leading going into the 3rd period.
2-1 @ Detroit
3-2 SO loss vs. Dallas
3-2 SO loss vs. St. Louis
3-2 SO loss vs. Dallas
The current measuring stick has to be the Calgary Flames and the Chicago Blackhawks. Calgary lost their first game after leading into period three since November 1st just this week when they dropped in Minnesota. Any guessing how many 3rd period leads the Blackhawks have lost kids?
Depressing. I better turn this post around or else you’ll think you’re at a screening of Precious.
Let’s hope for the best, that Boyle’s “lower body” injury isn’t major and that he’ll be quarterbacking our team again sooner rather than later. But, the Sharks still have issues and are officially in a slump, dropping five games in a row and are now tied with LA for first place in the Pacific Division. Here comes the sunny side, are you ready? If this was going to happen, and for most good teams it does, it needs to happen now. Last January, Detroit lost five games in a row, hit the skids and came back even stronger. It’s not like bad things don’t happen to good teams – but the Sharks recent play, their record against the cream of the West (Flames, Hawks, Kings, and Wings) is 1-4-2, and this potential season-busting injury makes me want to cry in a corner.