As the Sharks’ 2-1 lead headed into the third frame Tuesday night dissolved into a 5-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators, echoes of the loss-laden month of February and painful letdowns of season’s past could be heard again.
This long March-ending road trip, while daunting on any team’s schedule, had the potential to be a positive turning point in what has been one roller-coaster of a 2014-15 campaign. Instead, the Sharks are 1-3 and on the brink of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2002-03 season.
The reason? “We’re not good enough right now to compete against good teams in the NHL,” Logan Couture told the media. “We just haven’t been good enough on a consistent basis … Guys have been letting each other down.”
Makes you wonder if this “letting each other down” epidemic is the bigger issue. But how can a dressing room that’s so chemistry-driven have such a hard time going the distance? After multiple frustrating losses, Joe Pavelski has explained that the Sharks “are a better team than this” and that “the guys in this locker room believe in each other,” to paraphrase. There is this certainly evidence of that belief system, like when the team rallied to pick up Mirco Mueller after his fumble against Chicago gave way to the Blackhawks’ go-ahead goal and eventual 6-2 win. It’s a roster of guys who can support each other, yet that collective pick-me-up when it’s time to rally back from deficits to win games at the most crucial point in the season is absent.
What is this je ne sais quoi that keeps the Sharks from keeping their collective foot on the gas?
The mystery, of course, has never been in San Jose losing, but in the frustrating manner in which they’ve lost. Getting into a hole too early to dig themselves out, like in their loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Or giving up a lead in the third frame after having such a strong second, like they did against Ottawa and right before the roadie against the Blackhawks. The battle to rally on a regular basis is a difficulty, to say the least.
Not that there is complete lack of effort. We all saw Pavelski’s first intermission “pep talk” courtesy of the EPIX series that ended up pushing the Sharks to come from behind and beat the Arizona Coyotes. The Sharks as a unit should be able to pick up their game any time he gives a speech as such, yet the message gets lost more than it gets received.
It’s this bizarre cloud of negativity that has plagued this team for multiple seasons now, before there was any “who’s your captain?” chants, before public player-GM turmoil, or — drumroll please — before the Kings gave the Sharks the boot in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
Now that the offseason is looking to be a bit closer than first anticipated, we start to wonder what changes — or lack thereof — will be made. I know how dangerous of a subject that is to bring up, given the incredibly strong opinions out in Readerland have about certain players being responsible for different mistakes each night that San Jose can’t hold onto a lead or can’t find the scoresheet.
At this point, a longer offseason could be a good thing if the right tweaks are made. In addition to making changes that help keep the opposition from finding the back of the net four-plus times a game, shakeups need to be made that will help preserve a fighting instinct that the team can regularly maintain for more than just 40 minutes a night.
We might not be able to pinpoint what it is that causes the Sharks to rack up frustrating loss after frustrating loss. But hopefully the results on this roadie are enough to push for the right changes that bring the regular occurences of these frustrating losses to a halt.