If the best team in the NHL were ever in a slump, well, they are now. The San Jose Sharks lost 4-3 in OT Thursday night to the Minnesota Wild after building a 3-0 lead. It was the first time San Jose had lost a home game after gaining a three-goal advantage since 1996.
Accomplishing such a negative feat that hasn't been done in nearly 13 years ought to be enough to sound off alarm bells inside the San Jose locker room. The Sharks have now lost three games in a row, and four out of their last five, which includes back-to-back regulation losses for the first time all season.
It would be no issue if the Sharks were getting thoroughly outplayed due to the injuries they have sustained over the last couple of months. However, the top line of Marleau-Thornton-Setoguchi seems to lower their play when the supporting cast goes down with injury.
The top line's poor play has put all of the Sharks' offensive hopes on the second line of Michalek-Pavelski-Clowe, who have been carrying the team offensively. The 3-0 lead that the Sharks built up against Minnesota was all in thanks to their second line. Pavelski scored two of the goals, Clowe scored the other and added an assist, and Michalek had three helpers.
However, in the past five games combined, the "top line" of Marleau-Thornton-Setoguchi has put up a whopping total of six points. The "second line" of Michalek-Pavelski-Clowe has put up twice as many, contributing 12 points over that span.
So essentially, with the Sharks' entire "third line" on the injured list with Roenick, Grier, and Goc all out of the lineup, the Sharks are relying entirely on their top two lines for scoring. Their fourth line is made up of goon Jody Shelley and goon in the making rookie Brad Staubitz. Therefore, when teams are facing the Sharks, they realize that San Jose only has two quality lines.
Well, with so many injuries across the bottom half of the top forwards, one would logically come the conclusion that the team's top forwards would step up their game. But for some reason, that is not the case with the Sharks.
Joe Thornton is nowhere to be found of late, and it is sad the some fans consider him to be amongst the best hockey players in the world because he has never once stepped up to carry his team when called upon. Perhaps the notion that Thornton doesn't show up for the playoffs may be true after all because he hasn't seemed to elevate his game in a long, long time.
Then there is the captain Patrick Marleau, who for the most part this season has returned to form, leading the team with 34 goals on the year. However, Marleau has just one goal in the past seven contests.
The fact is that when a team isn't playing well, they look to their big-time players to do just that—come up big. But right now, the Sharks' big-time players aren't living up to the moment.
San Jose is currently relying on one productive line when the other, more desperate teams that they are facing have four solid, competitive lines that are already in playoff mode because they are in need for every point they can get. Clearly the Sharks don't need every single point that they can get on the rest of their schedule. However, they still have plenty to play for.
Without home ice throughout at least the Western Conference, the Sharks' road to their first Stanley Cup will end abruptly when they have to face Detroit in the conference finals starting out on the road. There in fact is the reason to keep playing like every game matters, because every game does.
The effort in the second half of the Minnesota game was just atrocious. Yes, goaltender Brian Boucher shouldn't have let up that fluke of a goal on the backhanded dump-in, but the Sharks had options after that goal. They could have turned things around and dictated the play or let the Wild seize the momentum.
San Jose let Minnesota feed off the tying goal, and the Sharks couldn't seem to muster any more offensive threats in the Wild zone. In overtime, in a game the Sharks could not afford to lose after building a 3-0 lead, the Wild came away with the game winner.
Mikko Koivu scored his second of the game at 4:46 of the overtime period when the Sharks defense seemed to relax in the final moments of play and let defenseman Bret Burns center the puck through the crease. Koivu then redirected the pass past Boucher, who had no chance on the play.
After the Dallas game on Tuesday, the majority of Sharks fans marked that down as the worst game all season. Yet, the Sharks were able to give them a game to change their minds just two days later.
Blowing the 3-0 lead and showing little offensive push after Minnesota pulled within 3-2 made Sharks fans wonder, "what the heck is going on?" San Jose skated like they had the game in the bag even at 3-2, but the fluke goal on Boucher is the perfect testament to the fact that games are 60 minutes long and then overtime games are 65 minutes, not 64 minutes and 46 seconds.
The Sharks will be in the playoffs come April and will have their full compliment of role players available come that time of year. However, when that time comes, they may not have home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Yet, they have been the No. 1 team in the league for the majority of the season until the recent stretch of injuries.
If San Jose wants to continue to be that No. 1 team and go into the playoffs with home ice throughout, it is going to be up to Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to step up their game and be the top-tier players that they are paid to be.