In times of uncertainty, it is not uncommon for people to panic and lose focus of the situation at hand.
The San Jose Sharks’ recent sky dive down the Western Conference standings has many worried that their eerily predictable downfall is starting a little early this season.
Since the return from the Olympic break, Todd McLellan’s squad has looked out of sync, worn-out, and lacked that certain “We are the better team” feel.
Losers in seven of their last 10 and currently riding their worst losing streak since the 2005-'06 season, the Sharks have squandered a 12-point lead in their division and have looked atrocious in the process. While many expected San Jose to struggle returning from Vancouver after sending a league-high eight players to the festivals, this slide has most of the Bay Area concerned on how this will affect the Sharks heading into the playoffs.
With a playoff berth all but locked in for the boys in Teal and the fact that they should not drop any further than fourth in the Western standings, Sharks fans need to step back from the ledge and realize that the world is not completely caving in. Not yet anyways.
Although they are experiencing a major slump right now, this unquestionable downturn in performance could be just what the doctor ordered to get this team back on the right track when the games that matter the most ultimately arrive.
Here are five reasons that can help us stay calm during these turbulent times and hope that the hockey gods show us a little love come playoff time.
Penalty Kill is Playing Solid; Power Play and Even Strength Will Catch on Fire
There isn’t much to write home about when your team gives up 27 goals over a six game span, so you have to take the good where you can find it.
The Sharks killed off penalties at an 81.8-percent clip during their recent skid, allowing only four goals on the PK. Not the hottest stat in the world, but it all starts with special teams and this PK success could be the glimmer of a spark that these stumbling Sharks need to grasp on to.
While it is hard to ignore the Sharks constant playoff struggles, it is also hard to quickly forget the magic this team produced just a few months ago.
The Sharks currently rank fourth in power play (21.8), penalty kill (85.3), and five-on-five ratio (1.19) in the NHL. While this current downtrend is unsettling, these guys have proven that they can perform at these higher levels and it all eventually has to synch when it matters most…right?
If the penalty kill can maintain their ground and the power play can catch on fire before heading into the playoffs, fans may be singing a different tune once the postseason begins. Unfortunately, the 10-percent success rate by their power play over the past six games is absolutely horrendous considering the names being paraded out there. Perhaps it is time to shake things up and spread the talent amongst both special team lines.
Phoenix Has Six of Final Eight Games on the Road
For those of you worried that the Sharks are in danger of entering the playoffs as a non-division winner, don’t, because there is still a lot of hockey left to play.
Phoenix has temporarily taken the No. 2 spot in the Western standings, but their schedule to finish off the season will really test the versatility of this young team.
The final game of the season for both Phoenix and San Jose will be against one another and could possibly decide who gets home ice advantage further into the playoffs. Luckily for the Sharks, they get to play this game in the comforts of the HP Pavilion.
Sharks Own the Fourth Best Road Record in the Western Conference
OK, the Sharks haven’t really shown their road warrior skills as of late, but the optimist in me wants to say that this six game losing streak away from the Tank is just a slight bump on the highway.
Despite this dreadful road skid, the Sharks still posses the fourth best road record in the West, posting a respectable 21-13-2 tally. While it is hard to stay positive about this overachieving away record considering their drastic stumble, claiming that the road is an untamable task for these Sharks would be foolish.
The Sharks have posted a modest 8-8 record against the eight teams vying for a playoff spot, proving that they can actually beat these teams on their home ice. Winning on the road is more than a must and something we know this team can do… at least in the regular season.
A No. 4 Seed Provides Sharks with the Often-Energizing Underdog Role
The No. 4/No. 5 series in the Stanley Cup playoffs tends to be the most evenly matched game of the first round. While the No. 4 seed obviously gets a slight advantage with home ice, predicting a true winner of the matchup is often a toss-up.
If the Sharks find themselves sitting in the fourth position once Stanley’s musical chairs finally comes to an end, it might be the best thing that could happen to these Sharks. Whether it is the Los Angeles Kings or the Nashville Predators anxiously waiting for them, the Sharks would not necessarily be the clear cut favorites after their post-Olympic breakdown. This could provide San Jose with a much needed underdog role entering their most scrutinized time of the year.
While a series with Nashville has proven fruitful to the Sharks in previous playoff appearances, a Los Angeles series would keep the Sharks travel log to a minimum, and could finally stir a little extra hatred into an often-dull, in-state rivalry. Either way, it will be a tough series against two teams that are definitely streaking.
The Sharks have relished off of this underdog role before and it could be just what this team needs to propel them over the haunting hurdles of playoffs past.
Six of Final Nine Games Are Against Playoff Contenders
To be the best you have to play the best.
The Sharks will definitely get a chance to gear up for the playoffs as their regular season comes to a close by playing several of the teams that are primed to make the big dance.
Six of San Jose's final nine games come against teams that are in the playoff picture and if the Sharks hope to gain back any of the credibility that they have lost the past couple of weeks, beating these opponents will be an excellent start.
While this won't be an easy road, the Sharks seemed to play better this past month against higher caliber teams. Their three blowout losses over the past six games came against Western Conference bottom feeders, but the games against playoff contenders were hard fought battles.
If they can find a way to land on the right side of the coin in these upcoming matchups, confidence and hopefully order will be restored.