San Jose Sharks Digging Their Own Grave

Daniel PetriContributor IMay 19, 2010

DALLAS - MAY 04:  Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov #20 of the San Jose Sharks and Ryane Clowe #29 look dejected after a 2-1 loss against the Dallas Stars during game six of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 4, 2008 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If you are a Sharks fan reading this article, all I can say to possibly cheer you up is that the series is not over yet.  

The Chicago Blackhawks have won games one and two to take a solid 2-0 series lead, but it is first to four wins, not first to two.

Now, an optimist would simply say that the Sharks have played well but have not gotten the bounces, yet. 

The East Coast/Canadian/NHL media are cuing up the broken record of "dem Sharks be choking der!"  (as if a team can possibly "choke" in the Western Conference Finals against the team that everyone picked to win the Stanley Cup.)

But no, alas, the 2-0 series hole that the Sharks find themselves in is far more complex, yet simple, to understand.


Problem One

The Sharks are getting outplayed and the Sharks lines do not match-up well against the lines of Chicago. 

This is the fault of Todd McLellan who is far too stubborn to stick with the match-ups that work well. 

A prime example is the game winning goal in game one. Instead of doing the proper match-up which had stuffed Chicago's first line all game long, McLellan did not take off the Joe Thornton line despite having the last change. 

Thornton wins the face-off, but Vlasic is out-muscled (surprise, surprise) along the boards, Heatley misses his defensive assignment (another surprise,) and (presto chango!) Chicago scores to take a 2-1 lead that they would not give up.

In game two, despite all the obvious indicators that Chicago's forecheck and cycle was too much for the current lines to stop, McLellan changed nothing until the third period when it was too little too late. 

Chicago dominated along the boards against the top line because Heatley and Marleau, despite being big body guys, play soft along the boards. 

A simple switch of putting either Logan Couture or Torrey Mitchell back on that top line for Heatley would have given the Sharks a grinding presence which would have helped to solve that Chicago cycle.


Problem Two

Related to problem one, it is that the top line just is not getting the job done. 

Marleau had two goals in game two, but Joe Thornton is doing everything possible to set up Marleau and Heatley who can do nothing but whiff on pass after pass after pass. 

Joe Thornton is back-checking and forechecking like a man possessed. 

Marleau and Heatley look like they are skating in mud. 

If the problem is related to an injury then Todd McLellan needs to make a change. He is only hurting his team if he does not change up that top line. 

If the problem is lack of effort, then both Marleau and Heatley need to be benched. 

Again, this all falls on McLellan's shoulders as he needs to take action to fix this problem.


Problem Three

Evgeni Nabokov. 

Nabokov has been a debacle this series—shall we say, a Nabocle. 

Every goal has been scored (except for two that have been tipped) between the top of the face-off circle and the blue-line. 

Unacceptable play from Nabby so far this series. He might be playing his way out of a contract. 

On the third goal he did not even react to the puck, and on the last goal he came at least four-feet out of the crease, ran into a 'Hawks player, and then wanted goalie interference. 

Sorry Nabby, but no dice.


Problem Four

Chicago is just a better, deeper, more talented offensively, and quicker team. 

It just might be that simple Sharks fans. All this means is that the Sharks need to out-work Chicago, and they have yet to do that.