At this point in the season, the San Jose Sharks may be exactly what their 11-7-4 record suggests they are: a .500 team. They’re no longer the “four in the net, pizza you get!” sharp shooters they once were, and while they’ve tightened up in both netminding and defense, they’re not strong enough on the back end to play the kind of hockey that made the St. Louis Blues so successful last season.
Their brand of hockey is simply too sloppy. Offensively, they still can’t seem to get the “stop passing first in a shooting league” message Doug Wilson tried to send in his state of the franchise address over the weekend. They pass the puck first, second and third before even considering shooting. In doing so they waste small and valuable shooting lanes while turning the puck over all too often. Defensively, they play far too soft in the transition game and fall apart when offenses collapse on the crease. They didn’t stand a chance in their 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames tonight, not just because they could only muster one goal through three periods, but also because their primary reason for hanging around the standings in the first place, Antti Niemi, was taking a much-needed night off.
Thomas Greiss isn’t the starter-quality backup many (including myself) proclaimed him when the season started, and it showed against the Flames. He definitely wasn’t helped by his defense — the third goal was scored after Ryane Clowe threw an incredibly dangerous pass at Douglas Murray in the slot, who immediately turned it over to Jarome Iginla — but even when the defense was solid, Greiss wasn’t. The equation for the Sharks simply isn’t adding up to any kind of substantial success.
This loss is exactly why the “character win” narrative some people tried to pull out of Tuesday night’s game means absolutely nothing. The Sharks have far too much talent and experience to still be building character. Facing the NHL’s top teams shouldn’t create adversity at all if San Jose is really still a force to be reckoned with. If this team is truly growing from wins over teams like the Vancouver Canucks, they shouldn’t be tripping over their own feet and losing to inferior teams the very next night.
– When the St. Louis Blues faced travel issues on their way home to face the Sharks in February, San Jose was told to get ready for a fight. The Blues were going to be tired, sure, but they weren’t going to roll over and let the Sharks destroy them. The Sharks faced similar travel issues in getting from Vancouver to Calgary, but they couldn’t muster nearly the same kind of fight. The Sharks looked a step or two slow from the opening puck drop, and unlike the Blues, they made it easy for Calgary to take control and never relinquish it.
– I’ll chock that problem up to leadership. Both the Sharks captain (Joe Thornton) and alternate captain (Clowe) have been struggling mightily lately, and even though Thornton netted a goal Wednesday, it didn’t necessarily take away from the rest of his struggles. As for Clowe…
– …If he and Murray aren’t traded soon, it’ll be because neither of them have value on the market (and it won’t be particularly surprising). If a team is looking for a “gutty,” shot-blocking defenseman then Murray may be their guy, but he’s nowhere near a top-five blueliner at this point and shouldn’t even be starting for the Sharks. Wilson’s best chance for a decent return would be to package them both, but Clowe’s value is at an all-time low as well. If San Jose truly needs a change to turn a corner and it has to come through a trade, they’re in a lot of trouble. The only players with no trade clauses in their contracts are either too valuable or have no value at all.
– It looks like Ratto v. Remenda Part II has come to a rather uneventful end. It’s not like either of them had any real animosity toward one another to begin with, but it sure is entertaining to watch their heated debates over the merits of the team. Apparently the two of them talked Sharks on “The Mr. T Show” Wednesday afternoon, but I missed it because I was working (and KNBR hasn’t posted the podcast). Either way, Ratto dedicated an entire column to his little kerfuffle with Remenda, and it pretty much cleared the air for good (much to the chagrin to many of you, I’m sure).