Dan Boyle showed leadership in scoring the first and last goal for the Sharks in a 3-2 OT win over the Kings
The Los Angeles Kings came into the final two games of the 2011-12 season having left only seven points on the table in the last 93 games in which they entered the third period with a lead—a .962 point percentage.
The San Jose Sharks entered both games to end the season with a third period deficit. While the Kings record of earning at least a point remains intact, the extra two points enabled the Sharks to pull ahead of the Kings for the seventh seed in the Western Conference.
The optimistic Sharks fan already sees the comeback in these games and the strong finish to the season as proof that they are now ready for the playoffs. They blocked twice as many shots (24-12) in the second game and put up eight goals over two games against elite netminder Jonathan Quick.
But any objective view shows the flaws continue for this team.
For one thing, you should block more shots if the other team attempts more. However, San Jose still blocked a larger percentage of shots attempted (36.4 vs. 23.5 percent) and had more than a 25 percent better ratio of blocks to shots allowed on goal.
Considering they get fewer opportunities, the Sharks are one of the best shot-blocking teams in the league. This should not be a problem area for the team in the playoffs.
They also had a disturbing 20 giveaways to only eight takeaways, while L.A. had just eight and six, respectively. But the Sharks are regularly in the red for that stat because they are good at controlling the puck, giving them more chances to turn it over and fewer to create them. They do not typically go minus-10 in this category, and this is not an anticipated issue for the playoffs.
However, the game showcased the following seven things that have been issues all season and will be a problem in the playoffs...
Remember that stretch of about a quarter of the season when the San Jose Sharks killed over 85 percent of their penalties?
I had almost forgotten about it, too.
The good thing is the Sharks do not take many trips to the penalty box. The bad news is that their kill is so atrocious that they are still behind 24 other teams in goal differential on the PK (goals against minus shorthanded goals).
The Sharks allowed six power play goals in nine chances over the final two games to the L.A. Kings, who are in the bottom half of the league with the man-advantage. San Jose finished the season ahead of just one team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, and by just three-tenths of one percent.
Over the two mini-series that led up to the playoffs, the San Jose Sharks did not lose once. The problems is, they played the Dallas Stars and L.A. Kings.
The Stars were a pesky but inferior team that was unable to make the playoffs. The Kings are the only team in the Western Conference seeded lower than San Jose, and they were missing Jeff Carter for both games.
In other words, they are not the St. Louis Blues, who the Sharks will play in the first round. They are not the two-time President's Trophy-winning, defending conference champion Vancouver Canucks the Sharks are likely to face in the second round.
Two teams against whom they have just one regulation and one shootout win over in 13 games over the last year-plus combined.
Had the Sharks won the division, they could at least face a team of L.A.'s calibre in the first round. But better teams will be harder to beat, and they will have to do it 16 times to matter.
How often do we hear Todd McLellan talk about the team's need to play desperate hockey? How many times do the San Jose Sharks players have to acknowledge the other team played harder early on?
These same messages were put forth Saturday. McLellan said the team seemed too satisfied with making the playoffs in Friday's practice. Multiple players admitted they did not match the effort of the L.A. Kings in the first two periods.
Championship teams have professional approaches. Name the last Stanley Cup champion who approached most of the games during the season like exhibitions until they were facing a loss?
You cannot think of one because against the best teams, you cannot count on coming back. You cannot take early shifts for granted.
The San Jose Sharks' PR firm (the broadcast team) likes to point out that their power play was the NHL's best after the All-Star break.
But their ratio of five-on-five goals scored to surrendered dropped from 5:4 to 11:10. They also failed to score on a five-minute power play against the Kings Thursday. They got all four of their goals in the two games with the man-advantage in the third period.
San Jose has also been the victim of a shutout eight times and scored only one goal eight more times. (Their first round opponent, the St. Louis Blues, have shut the Sharks out twice and held them to one goal once.) They went 20 games late in the season without scoring more than three goals.
In other words, their PP needs more consistency and they need to be able to score better than they have of late at even strength. In the playoffs, you cannot rely on getting power plays.
People like to say that the team that is hot going into the playoffs is in the best position to win Lord Stanley's Cup.
If that were true, the San Jose Sharks would be one of a few teams to pick, as they are 10-4-1 over their last 15 (.700 point percentage). But Sharks fans should know this is not the reality, since San Jose went into the 2006, 2007 and 2008 playoffs as the hottest team in the league.
The problem is that streaky teams have a hard time sustaining it for the 16 wins it takes to win hockey's holy grail. No team is more streaky than the Sharks: Outside of three 15-game stretches (25, 24 and 21 points), they were 11-22-4 (.351).
The playoffs are about physical play. Hitting, blocked shots and fighting one's way to the net are keys to success.
As previously mentioned, the Sharks are very good at blocking shots. But despite being the biggest team in the league, they consistently lose battles in front of both their own net and the opponent's.
They are also arguably the lightest hitting team in the league. They routinely are out-hit 2:1, and only a small part of that can be attributed to their pick possession. They traded away their best hitting forward and have only one player not a liability on the blue line who is physical.
The San Jose Sharks are second in the league on face offs despite having the NHL's best on draws not even be the first choice for his line because he is on the wing.
Unfortunately, they have struggled of late in the circle. Struggle is in this case a relative term—they have won four more than they have lost over the last five games.
However, getting possession of the puck is so important to the Sharks' game that they need to win a few more every game. They have been closer to 50 percent than their season-long 53.3 since the All-Star break, and that could present a problem.