What's Wrong with the Slumping San Jose Sharks?

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What's Wrong with the Slumping San Jose Sharks?
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The San Jose Sharks started the 2013 NHL season 7-0, which immediately prompted questions asking if they were legitimate Stanley Cup contenders or just overachieving.

This team has let their fans down so many times over the last few few years with disappointing playoff results, only once advancing as far as the Western Conference Finals.

San Jose has now lost six straight games, which is the longest losing streak in the NHL at the moment.

With a tough schedule coming up over the next two weeks, and four of their next six games coming against quality teams, the Sharks need to starting winning games or they will keep falling down the Western Conference standings.

What's wrong with San Jose? Let's examine some areas of the team that must improve.

 

Star Players Aren't Producing

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As teams have adapted to new defensive systems and have gotten used to playing at NHL speeds following a lengthy lockout, the quality of defense around the league has started to improve.

As a result, the Sharks are having a tougher time dominating opponents offensively than they did in the first two weeks of the season.

Patrick Marleau has one goal in his last eight games, which is one major reason why the Sharks have struggled. He's the team's best goal scorer and someone who can dominate on the power-play.

Joe Thornton has no goals and only one assist over the last eight games, and as the team's No. 1 center and top playmaker, it's hard for the offense to thrive when he's not making a strong impact in the attacking zone.

Young stars Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski have scored one and two goals, respectively, since the team's losing streak began.

The entire team has struggled to produce offensively during this losing streak, but the top-six is most responsible for the scoring woes. These high-paid stars have to live up to expectations and score goals for the Sharks to be successful.

 

Lack of Scoring

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San Jose's defensive effort and performance has been great during its losing streak. The real problem is the team's offense, because in the last six games, the Sharks have scored an average of 1.16 goals per game.

Antti Niemi has given the Sharks a shutout through regulation in his last two starts, and the team has wasted these excellent performances from its starting goaltender.

Niemi is under way too much pressure, having to completely shut down the opposing team every night for the Sharks to win, which is unfair to him, especially since the Sharks have one of the finest top-six forward groups in the NHL.

Just four players on the Sharks roster have scored more than two goals this season, and of the 19 players who have played in at least nine games this season, just 10 of them have scored a single goal.

If the San Jose offense continues to struggle, general manager Doug Wilson will need to add some scoring depth before the April 3 trade deadline.

 

San Jose's Power-play Has Gotten Worse

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There are a lot of quality teams struggling on the power-play this season, and the Sharks are one of these clubs.

Over the last eight games, San Jose is 2 for 34 with the man advantage, and on the season the team is ranked 10th in power-play percentage.

The Sharks would be ranked near the bottom of the league if they didn't score 12 power-play goals in their first five games. But since their impressive 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on January 27, the Sharks' power-play has been awful.

San Jose is averaging 4.25 power-plays per game, so the team is getting plenty of opportunities to win games with their extraordinary offensive talent.

The Sharks aren't giving opposing teams different looks on the power-play and they have failed to move enough in the attacking zone to open up spaces where scoring chances can be found.

When a team is struggling to score 5-on-5, which is one problem the Sharks are having during this losing streak, taking advantage of power-plays is the best way to win games.

San Jose has enough talent to run a successful power-play, so the players must stay away from bad habits and be aggressive with the man advantage by taking a lot of shots and moving the puck with quick, crisp passes.

 

3rd Period Goals and Not Finishing Games is a Problem

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Every legitimate championship contender finds ways to win games in the third period, which is something that the Sharks have been unable to do in their current losing streak.

San Jose has allowed seven third period goals (and one more in overtime) in the last six games, while scoring just two goals themselves in the final period during the losing streak.

The eight goals that the Sharks have allowed in the third period or overtime in the last six games are twice as many as the team gave up in its seven-game winning streak to start the season.

Losing games in the third period, especially to bad teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets (who scored three third period goals versus San Jose on Monday), is completely unacceptable for a veteran team such as the Sharks.

The Sharks have to match their opponents' intensity in the third period or they will continue to drop important points that could prevent them from winning the Pacific Division title.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.

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