The postseason is nearly here for the Sharks.
The dreaded postseason...
The postseason has been the bane of the San Jose Sharks and their fans' existence in recent memory. From a heartbreaking four-OT loss in game six of the second round, to the hated Stars in 2008, to the embarrassing first-round exit to the equally hated and eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducks last year, recent postseasons have been cause for complete devastation around Sharks nation.
And the fanbase is tired of it.
As the story remains the same, less and less often are the ardent supporters of the Sharks speaking up in defense of their team.
Particularly now that the Sharks look poised to limp their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs. A six-game post-Olympic break losing streak elicited collective groans and "here we go agains".
The fact that many of the losses in that stretch came to teams of the caliber of Dallas (No. 10 seed), Edmonton (No. 15 seed), Anaheim (No. 12 seed), and Florida (No. 13 seed in East) was not merely shocking, it was depressing.
Then they came home and reeled off four straight wins.
Hooray, they're back!
And then they went back to Dallas and got embarrassed.
The Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Sharks at this time cannot inspire confidence in anyone not wearing the most Teal colored glasses. The problem is not merely the play, but how familiar it feels.
I am not saying that anyone with playoff tickets immediately jump off this article and put them on Craigslist for whatever pittance you can get. I'm merely saying that if you don't already have them, don't overpay for those babies.
So why the struggles? What in the hell is going on with this team?
First, they are beat up.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic may be their best defensive player and he has missed nearly two months worth of games due to injury and the break. Thornton is battered after that nasty spill into the boards. Clowe took a puck to the throat and Malhotra took one to the face.
At this point in the year, everyone is playing hurt. If you are not playing through a nagging pain of some kind, you probably weren't playing very hard the last few months.
The Sharks do seem to be more beat up that most however. Particularly among players that really matter.
Second, the defense has almost no cohesion.
The injury to Vlasic caused a turn style in the second defense, pairing with everyone and their mother being placed beside Rob Blake, but no one was close to getting anything going with Rob the way Pickles did.
Jason Demers was placed with Nick Wallin for the recent Stars game and it was a complete disaster. Neither player communicated with the other and they were constantly out of position and on the same side of the ice.
The Sharks defense needs to jump up in the play for this team to succeed, but they need to realize there are times you simply can't do that.
Too many odd-man rushes and breakaways have been thrown Nabokov's way in recent weeks leading to a severe and precipitous drop-off in both his numbers and his play.
This conveniently brings me to my final issue, Evgeni Nabokov himself. Nabby struggled mightily in the Olympics, culminating in the absolute shelling he suffered at the hands of eventual gold medalists Team Canada.
Nabby has not looked right ever since. The goaltender who spent the first half of the season dominating opponents with ridiculous double-stack saves has been replaced by a pale shadow that looks oddly like Vesa Toskala.
He shows some flashes of confidence but they are growing less frequent. Nabby is shaken. He does not trust his defense to help him and that lack of trust has pushed him deeper and deeper into the crease.
Nabby's struggles are a by-product of the teams struggles. The problem is, there are only four games left to fix them in.
The Sharks don't need to play their best hockey to win those games. It is naive to think they can get back to their January form in four games before the playoffs begin.
They will be working on fundamentals and simplification all throughout round one. Hopefully they can play an opponent of lesser skill which will allow them to make these adjustments and not jump all over the Sharks inevitable mistakes.
There is work for the Sharks to do.
A nice win tonight against Minnesota will help restore confidence, but the win was hardly easy or pretty.
Logan Couture has begun to step up in a big way and that bodes well for the team. He could be a catalyst for them in the playoffs the way Joe Pavelski was in 2008. One can only hope he sparks a fire under some of the veterans to follow suit.
The pressure is on at the Shark Tank. The Sharks had better realize it. The fans expect no less than a Stanley Cup appearance at this point, nor should they. Doug Wilson spit fire last year after their early playoff exit.
He may burn down the Shark Tank if they do it again.