Had the San Jose Sharks beaten the Anaheim Ducks Monday, they would have held the Pacific Division lead for over at least 24 hours.
Instead, after losing back-to-back division games, they are out of the playoff picture in mid-March for the first time since 2003. They can no longer blame games in hand, either, as they sit 10th in both points and point percentage.
A Stanley Cup contender in the bottom half of the league in terms of record...just what has gone wrong?
Injuries hit the Sharks hard midseason and they appeared to no longer have the depth to weather them. But that certainly cannot be blamed anymore: San Jose has had all but one of its everyday players dressed since March 3, after which it is 3-4-3 and just 2-2 since even that player returned.
Scheduling has been brutal for the Sharks. The NHL's ridiculous obsession with back-to-back games on the road (25 of San Jose's 41 road games are either the first or second of back-to-back games) left them 27 games in seven weeks because of an ATP tournament held at HP Pavilion.
But the reality is that until that trip began, the Sharks were 4-1-1 in the second of back-to-backs on the road. Even now, they have a better record in those games (.600 point percentage) than in the rest of the season (.556).
So if injuries and scheduling are not to blame, that leaves talent and effort.
Which of the following is the biggest problem plaguing the San Jose Sharks?
On paper, this team is in the top 10 in every unit (that link to their blue line has links in the intro slide to their goalies and forwards).
Yes, it is effort. I cited it (and was rebuked) in my interview with Randy Hahn after the 2010 season. Doug Wilson cited it lacking in the 2009 playoffs. Jeremy Roenick talks about inadequate drive almost every time he brings up his former team, though his focus is primarily (and somewhat unfairly) on Patrick Marleau.
The one thing San Jose has continued to do well is control the puck. But with the season on the line, that has now failed them as well.
They were outshot 82-52 in the past two games. They gave up 40-plus shots in back-to-back games for the first time since their fourth NHL season—people born the last time that happened are legally driving now.
Yet despite the Kings having the puck a lot more, they outhit the Sharks 34-26. Despite attempting 71 shots to San Jose's 44, L.A. had only two fewer blocks (15-13), giving it blocks on more than eight percent more shots on goal and 23 percent more attempts.
That is outworking your opponent.
On the plus side, the Sharks did have eight fewer giveaways and one more takeaway. It is much easier to be on the plus side of those stats when the other team controls the puck, but those are still solid numbers.
Where will the San Jose Sharks finish the season?
Of course, the rested home team should be able to outwork the team traveling after a game the previous night. But that was the Ducks were the night before, when they had almost identical ratios to the Kings.
Even with full effort this team has rarely shown all season, the Sharks may not have enough to leapfrog two teams. They have games at the Ducks, Coyotes, Stars and Kings remaining. They host the Bruins, Coyotes, Avalanche, Stars and Kings.
That is five games at home and three on the road against teams ahead of them in the standings. The one team left on the docket that is out of the playoffs has beaten the Sharks four of five times so far this season.
It is time to accept that, for the first time since 2003, this team may well miss the playoffs.