The San Jose Sharks’ road struggles have officially followed them back to the Bay Area, as evidenced by their 1-2 record since returning home. The team has struggled to find their rhythm over the past month, and my confidence in their postseason chances is now rapidly diminishing, being replaced by the reality that this team may not even land a playoff berth at all.
The Sharks have been the only Bay Area team over the last decade for which the postseason was pretty much a guarantee, but after falling to the St. Louis Blues 3-1 at HP Pavilion on Saturday, their shot at the Stanley Cup playoffs suddenly is in great jeopardy. They fell to an early 1-0 deficit — which this season has equated to an automatic loss — but even after Torrey Mitchell tied the game up, the Sharks couldn’t keep the momentum alive. As is becoming the norm, poor special teams play (especially on the power play) and defensive irresponsibility doomed the Sharks from the start as they fell into a 2-score hole and couldn’t find a way out.
The St. Louis Blues are certainly no chumps. With the win, they landed just a single point behind Vancouver, making them the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. They swept their 4-game series with the Sharks and have proven to be a wall that San Jose is incapable of getting around.
Meanwhile, the Sharks have failed to take advantage of the Pacific Division leading Coyotes’ recent struggles. Phoenix remains in first place in the Pacific despite dropping their last two games. The Sharks sit at 7th in the Western Conference currently, tied with Dallas and just one point ahead of the Los Angeles Kings. The Sharks simply can’t afford to lose many more games if they want to to call San Jose “playoff territory” in 2012.
Even if they make the top eight, the sad reality that the Sharks simply aren’t competitive enough is beginning to settle in. Scrappy, defensively stout teams like Nashville and St. Louis have proved to be San Jose’s poison pill this year, and after two straight years of knocking out the Red Wings in the playoffs, Detroit may prove to be too much for the Sharks as well. San Jose has never found an answer for Vancouver or Chicago, either. That’s the lineup of teams the Sharks will have to go through if they want to play in the Finals. It would take a miracle turnaround for the Sharks to become on of the top two.
Taking this final month one game at a time seems to be the only remedy, but at this point it’s hard to imagine the Sharks snapping out of their struggles. Their problem is not one of talent or coaching, it’s mental — and that problem can be the most difficult to solve. Perhaps it’s time for Sharks fans to get ready for a letdown. That train is on it’s way and right now it shows no signs of stopping.