Let's face it, there is no team that endures more questions from the media and their fan base than a franchise that consistently gives strong showings in the regular season but then always seems to flop come the postseason.
Going into the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the San Jose Sharks will once again be facing more pressure than any other team to reach 16 postseason victories.
Considering the Sharks will finish the regular season no worse than second in the Western Conference this season, they will have been the second seed or higher for the third straight season and for the fourth time in the past six seasons.
This team has made qualifying for the playoffs essentially a given, something many teams would love to claim for their franchise.
But yet, consistently making the postseason is not enough for the Sharks anymore.
Failing to win the cup is simply unacceptable considering the talent on the roster and the fact that the rival Anaheim Ducks have already won a Stanley Cup despite being a younger franchise.
The Sharks and their fans want to taste the ultimate glory after 17 seasons of coming up short.
But do they have what it takes to get over the hump in 2010?
With just a little over a month left before the playoffs, every team has questions that will need to be answered.
In the Sharks' case, there are 10 questions in particular that, if answered correctly, will increase the chances they hoist the Cup come June.
In all honesty, this might be one of the questions that the Sharks don't need to get right in order to win the Cup.
For all intents and purposes, rookie defenseman Jason Demers may not see a second of action in this year's postseason.
However, with the Sharks standing pat at the trade deadline, Demers continues to be the second best offensive defenseman in the organization behind Dan Boyle.
And I'm suggesting he may not even see any time in the postseason? Yes, that is exactly what I am saying.
Throughout the entire season, Demers has proved to be downright awful in his own zone. Take away a stretch of five-six straight games in December where he played solid defensive hockey, Demers has looked like the equivalent of Jonathan Cheechoo trying to play defense.
Demers simply loses his balance and falls over for no apparent reason way too often and doesn't have the skating ability to make up for defensive miscues.
That said, with the Sharks having a top-two seed essentially wrapped up with a bow on top, Demers should play significant minutes in each of the remaining 18 games to see if he can improve.
If he improves enough defensively and shows the coaches he can be relied upon in the playoffs by not making rookie mistakes, Demers might just crack the postseason lineup.
Considering Marc-Edouard Vlasic's lower body injury, Rob Blake's decline in all-around ability, and the lack of offense of the entire defensive unit minus Dan Boyle, it is a real possibility that it would be beneficial to play Demers in the playoffs.
Demers' young legs and offensive skills might be a huge boost to the blueline come playoff time. Of course, Demers being able to contribute in the postseason all hinges on whether or not he can improve his defensive play.
Don't let that plus-11 plus/minus rating fool you. Demers has been really, really bad defensively in his rookie campaign, but in the playoffs as a sixth defenseman during five-on-five play and some time on the power-play, Demers could prove to be a real asset.
When the Sharks traded away veteran enforcer Jody Shelley earlier this season, the immediate question that developed was who would take over his spot in the fourth line?
So far, speedy winger Jamie McGinn has seen the most action at left wing since the Shelley trade, but fellow rookie Frazer McLaren ought to be given a shot down the stretch to prove his value.
McLaren, who hasn't played with the Sharks since December, has posted an impressive six points (one goal, five assists) in 23 games and a plus-six plus/minus rating for an fourth line player is an incredible mark.
Both McGinn and McLaren will battle it out for the left wing spot on the fourth line because enforcer Brad Staubitz has proved to be steady enough on the right-side of the fourth line.
Staubitz has tallied three goals and three assists in 34 games this season with a plus-three plus/minus.
Of the three players, Staubitz is the only right-handed shot and has an extensive background as a defenseman in the minors. A tidbit many fans aren't aware of is that Staubitz started professional hockey as a defenseman and made the switch to forward in the AHL.
Taking these factors into consideration, it is Staubitz who is almost assured of a fourth-line position come the postseason.
As for the left side of the fourth line, that spot is still to be decided. While McGinn has played more NHL games than both McLaren and Staubitz, McLaren's 6'4", 225-pound frame may prove vital come the physical grind of the postseason.
Only time will tell, but McLaren has proven so far this season to be a bit stronger in his own zone and the Sharks might want to value that play along with his size over McGinn's scoring touch.
Torrey Mitchell sprung onto the scene back in 2007-08 as a longshot to make the team out of training camp. But by giving Ron Wilson and the former Sharks coaching staff no reason to send him back down to the AHL, the former 2004 fourth-round pick made the opening night lineup.
Mitchell ended up playing in all 82 games as a rookie. He brought incredible energy game in and game out, registered 10 goals and 10 assists, providing excellent penalty killing, and was stellar in the faceoff circle.
Unfortunately a freak injury in training camp of the 2008-09 season saw Mitchell break his leg, which caused him to miss the entire season.
Mitchell only returned to play a couple games in the playoffs at the end the the year before starting this current season out of the lineup with tendinitis in his left knee.
The injury caused Mitchell to miss nearly the first two months of the season before playing in his first game in late November.
With such a long layoff between consistent NHL action, it took Mitchell until his 14th game to register his first point of the season, a deflection goal against the Washington Capitals.
But since that game, Mitchell has gone on to chip in just four more assists for just five points on the season.
While scoring was never his forte, this limited offensive production and a continued lack of jump has been disheartening to Sharks fans.
However, in San Jose's most recent game (a 3-2 win over the Canadiens), Mitchell showed some of that jump he brought in his rookie year, by setting up Manny Malhotra for the go-ahead, game-winning goal.
If Mitchell can continue to impress down the stretch and into the playoffs by returning to his rookie form, San Jose's fourth line might just be a force to be reckoned with come the postseason.
The Sharks picked up Scott Nichol on the first day of free agency this past offseason for one reason. They picked him up for the postseason.
If any team knew just how much of a pest the small but ferocious centerman could be to his opponents in the postseason, it would be the Sharks.
Nichol spent the previous four seasons with the Nashville Predators and played in two postseason series against the Sharks during that span.
When the Sharks signed him, most San Jose fans were thinking similar thoughts. Most of us said something along the lines of "Scottie Nichol? Hmmmm, sounds familiar....wait, isn't that the guy who on the Predators who was an absolute thorn in our side during the playoffs?"
So far this season, Nichol has been one of the top faceoff men in the entire NHL and has contributed three goals and 13 assists. Unfortunately, a late hit from behind during San Jose's most recent game has put him out of the lineup with an upper body injury.
Reports are that Nichol will miss at least the next few games and who knows if he will be able to fully recover in time before the playoffs.
If Nichol can recover enough to perform in the playoffs at the level he did against the Sharks in playoffs past, San Jose will be much better off.
The 2009-10 season was supposed to be a huge year for Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
After posting an impressive 36 points last season and continued solid defensive play, many thought Vlasic could become a 40-plus point all around defenseman.
Unfortunately, this hasn't happened as Vlasic hasn't been as dominant defensively as he has been in the past and his point total has dropped to just 13 points in 54 games this season.
That said, with the poor all around play from Blake, poor defensive play from Demers, and lack of offensive talent from Kent Huskins, Niclas Wallin and Jay Leach, Vlasic is still the third best defenseman on the team.
However, Vlasic is currently sidelined with a lower body injury that has caused him to miss the last 10 games. And by virtue of missing games on both ends of the Olympic break, Vlasic has essentially been out of action for over a month.
The Quebec native hasn't played in a game since Jan. 28. No matter how soon he gets back to the lineup (best reports say he will be back within the next four-five games), it is certain that Vlasic will be able to find his game before the playoffs start.
If he can't find his game, the Sharks might be forced into playing the offensively inept Jay Leach or what will probably still be a defensively shaky Jason Demers.
There is no arguing that Rob Blake had the resume to be a captain, but at 39 years of age, Blake wasn't most Sharks fans preference for such a role this season.
So far this season, Blake's performance on the ice has supported those who thought Dan Boyle would have been a better choice for captain.
Blake has dropped off considerably with his offense, tallying just 21 points in 53 games this season, a pace that would put him 16 points short of the 45 points he registered in 73 games last season.
Not only that, but Blake has taken numerous idiotic penalties in his own zone this season and has shown quite simply that he can no longer keep up with the younger forwards in today's NHL.
My personal preference would be for Blake to be used sparingly at most down the stretch and in the playoffs.
In my opinion, if Vlasic can return to action, a second line pairing of Vlasic and Demers would be a better tandem than Blake and Vlasic.
However, being the captain, it would be highly unlikely for Blake not to play in every postseason contest unless injury forced him out of the lineup.
And since he is bound to play every game if healthy, he really needs to find a fountain of youth. Blake's patented bomb of a point shot on the power play has been rarely seen this season and that was on of the few attributes that had prolonged his career to this point.
Without that blistering point shot, Blake's value has extremely diminished. If Blake wants to end his career with another Stanley Cup ring, he will really have to improve his play come the postseason because he is going to be relied upon as a top-four defenseman whether he should be or not.
Ryane Clowe has just two points in his last seven games and Devin Setoguchi has scored just 16 goals this season after scoring 31 in 81 games last season.
In last year's playoffs, Clowe and Setoguchi combined for just five points, as San Jose's top two scoring lines were quite ineffective in last year's playoffs against the Anaheim Ducks.
Now Clowe and Setoguchi have two completely different styles and it is yet to be established if they will both be on the same line along with Joe Pavelski.
However, come playoffs, both these styles need to be firing on all cylinders. Whether or not Clowe is on a scoring line or a checking line, the Newfoundland native needs to use his strong hands and big frame to dominate along the boards.
By being physical and defensively aware, Clowe can make a big impact come the postseason but he really needs to focus on doing the little things and not worry about the offensive numbers.
If Clowe plays to his strengths, the offense will come as an end result.
As for Setoguchi, the Alberta native is at the top of his game when he is fore checking and back checking ferociously and shooting the puck whenever he has the opportunity.
During the playoffs, the Sharks are going to need Setoguchi's scoring touch to take the pressure of the likes of Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau. In order to do that, Setoguchi will need to be on the top of his game by using his speed to his advantage.
If Setoguchi can make it a focus to keep his feet moving and getting of as many shots towards the net as possible, the Sharks will most definitely be in business.
The way these two wingers perform will be critical to extended playoff success.
As I pointed out in my most recent article previous to this slideshow, numbers don't tell the whole story.
Nabokov is having a career year when you look at his statistics this season. With a .927 save percentage and a 2.28 GAA, the Russian netminder is definitely in the running for the Vezina Trophy.
However, the Sharks have relied on him to start over 85 percent of their games this season. So far, Nabby has started 55 of 64 games which puts him on pace to play 70 games this season.
And while numbers don't tell the whole story, they do set a certain trend. For Nabokov, that trend is that whenever he plays over 60 regular season games, his playoff numbers drop significantly.
In Nabokov's top two playoff performances where he turned in save percentages of .935 and .920, he played less than 60 games during the regular season.
In the four other post seasons where he played over 60 games, he registered save percentages of .907, .904, .903 and .890.
Nabokov has had a history of groin problems and at 35 he may not be able to handle the load.
In fact, no goalie of Nabokov's age has won the cup after playing as many regular season games as he is going to play, in over 30 years.
San Jose will need solid goaltending if they want this year to be that magical season but can Nabokov maintain this high level of play all the way through the playoffs?
Arguably the biggest question facing the San Jose Sharks is whether Joe Thornton will ever have put together a strong playoff performance.
Throughout his career, both in Boston and in San Jose, Thornton has failed to deliver in the postseason the way he has in the regular season.
Averaging over a point per game in his regular season career, Thornton has averaged significantly less than a point per game in his playoff career.
Perhaps the most logical reason for such a drop off is Thornton's preference to slow the game down rather than speed it up.
Considering that the postseason sees NHL action speed up, maybe Thornton will simply never be a great postseason performer.
And if that becomes true, what a shame it will be because Thornton is one of the most talented players the NHL has seen over the last decade.
He has an underrated shot due to his preference to seemingly always make a pass even when obvious shooting situations stare him in the face, and he has underrated speed.
When Thornton wants to get by a defenseman or pick a corner, he can do so with the best forwards in the league.
Unfortunately, Thornton never raises his game come the postseason. He never truly changes his game the way he needs to in order to become a great playoff performer.
If Jumbo wants to rid himself of a playoff choke artist, he is going to have to swallow his pride and alter his typical style.
If he really wants to lead this team to the Stanley Cup, he is going to have to focus on speeding up his game and taking the shot every time he has a quality shooting opportunity.
Only by elevating his game in this fashion will he be able to overcome his knack for poor postseason performances.
Will they or won't they? That is the question.
As big of a die-hard Shark supporter as I may be, I frankly just don't see this team making it happen.
There are way too many questions surrounding this team and most of them aren't going to be answered the way we Sharks fans want them to be answered.
By failing to pick up a puck-moving defenseman at the deadline, the Sharks have really limited the all-around play their defense brings to the table.
Not only that, but the scoring from the bottom six forwards may not be enough if the top lines get shut down.
And a starting goalie in his mid-30s who will have played by far too many games than he should have are all signs pointing to this team collapsing in the playoffs as usual.
Even if Thornton were to have a solid postseason run, will it be enough to beat the likes of the Blackhawks, Penguins, Devils or Capitals?
In order to win the Cup, there is a good chance San Jose will have to beat two of those four teams.
Do they have the capability to accomplish that? If every Shark plays to a level they have never reached before, then maybe they will be able to beat two of those four and win the cup.
Unfortunately, almost all the breaks will have to go their way for that to happen.
I hope I'm wrong.
Boy, do I hope I'm wrong.