San Jose Sharks Struggles: 6 Reasons for Optimism
Analysis has to be cold-blooded.
If you seek perfection you have to focus on what is wrong. Focusing attention on what is going well only leaves those short-comings to be exploited.
That is why during the San Jose Sharks best season in 2008-09—the only time I have ever picked them to win the Stanley Cup—I was the lone voice in the Sharks community here guarding against overconfidence.
When they were 4-0, I brought attention to problems in the San Jose Sharks game that ended up being their undoing by April. I continued to cite issues in March, when a President's Trophy was within their reach.
For this crime, I had my writing ability, intelligence, sanity and loyalty questioned. But it turns out that they were too caught up in their own success to even make it out of the first round.
I finally got a chance to address my concerns about overconfidence and a lack of passion directly with the team in the State of the Sharks query (unfortunately, it is more than 40 minutes into the video, but it opens in a new tab and should be cued by the time you are done reading this slide).
Sometimes pessimism is realism. The problems cited, then, remain to this day. Just like a coach (I know having been raised by one), if the message is not getting across, you try different methods of delivery and increased emphasis.
Eventually, you are wasting your breath. You have to change your approach entirely or people tune you out. Even though an increasing number of Sharks fans are in agreement with me these days, continually beating the same drum is tiresome for the one doing it, as well as the one listening.
A good analyst does not just look for things to work on when things are going well. Once there are more negatives than positives, one must find things to build on. With the Sharks two spots out of the playoffs and having just nine games left, here are six things I view as reasons for optimism...
Martin Havlat's Play
Martin Havlat has been back from injury for four games. The San Jose Sharks are only 2-2 in those games, but three of the teams they faced were ahead of them in the standings.
In his first 26 games with the team, Havlat had just 16 points. Now he has the game-winning goal in one of the two wins and has two points in each of the last three games. Since his return, he is plus-one on a team that has given up three more goals than it has scored.
Players Healthy and Rested
The San Jose Sharks have not been hit especially hard by the injury bug. Other than Martin Havlat, Douglas Murray is the only starter to miss more than six games.
But some of their injuries were piled up, and the team's customary depth was found lacking. Now the only player who would be dressed still hurt is Tommy Wingels, who would project to play on the fourth line where the Sharks have no shortage of players to fill in.
There may also be a blessing in having the two recently injured. San Jose is still over a week away from finishing a brutal 27 games in eight weeks stretch that will wear down even younger teams than the Sharks, so having players rested helps.
San Jose Sharks Play Well Tired
The biggest Achilles Heel of the San Jose Sharks is their own talent.
Sometimes they try to make the pretty play instead of the smart one. When they are tired, they simplify their game and often have more success.
Case in point: Even after four straight losses in the second of back-to-back games on the road, the Sharks are 5-4-2 for the season. That is a point percentage of .545; in the other 26 road games, they are 10-11-5 (.481).
The Sharks have one back-to-back left, and it can give them a leg-up against a competitor—the Phoenix Coyotes.
Shane Doan Is Suspended Three Games
When a team ahead of you in the standings loses its captain for any length of time, that is a good thing. When the race both teams are in has just three points separating the third seed from 10th, it is even better.
While he is no longer the best Phoenix Coyotes player, their lack of depth makes his loss all the more important. Plus, the San Jose Sharks host the Coyotes Saturday and can take advantage of his absence head-to-head.
Due for a Hot Streak
Unlike Ray Stevens' hilarious song, the San Jose Sharks streaks are not funny, but deadly.
In two 15-game streaks this season, they have captured 24 and 25 points. In the other 43 games, they have 33 points.
They were 12-2-1 from the fifth through 20th games of the season and started a 10-1-4 streak just nine games later. In neither of those streaks did they lose two consecutive games in regulation.
Thus they cannot be in one now, meaning the last streak ended seven weeks ago. They are due for another.
So long as this streak starts soon, they will be in the playoffs, but Sharks fans should want it as late as possible so it can carry the team to the second round. (Unless like me, second round is not good enough and you want change you can believe in—if they cannot win games during the conference finals I do not want them making the playoffs...I am tired of getting my hopes up.)
Playing Their Way in Is Something New
One of the things you might have also noticed from my video clip linked in the intro slide is my quote of, depending on whom you believe, Albert Einstein or Ben Franklin: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.
The Sharks have gone in as contenders every year under Doug Wilson's tenure as general manager. How has that worked out so far?
This season, they are having to fight their way in. Their actual jobs may be on the line, with the GM, coach and most of the players at risk for being displaced.
A team with good character should always play every shift as if their job is on the line. Like Curtis Brown said in the broadcast about Wayne Gretzky, he played his best every shift because he never knew who was seeing him for the first or last time. A professional has that level of urgency the Sharks have lacked.
However, whether or not they should need such motivation, it cannot hurt. And this time when the playoffs begin, the Sharks (if they make it) will already be in playoff mode.