Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, the San Jose Sharks suffered back-to-back disappointing road losses to the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars as they watched two-goal leads disappear in the third period of each game, only to lose in overtime. The result salvaged a virtual split on the brief road trip, and the Sharks returned home to stifle the Chicago Blackhawks, leaving many to brush the occurrence off as a simple bump in the road.
But was it?
Just seven weeks later, the Sharks have seen their third-period issues re-emerge. More troubling—they have been unable to even salvage single points this time around.
The Sharks entered the Christmas break by amassing their first four-game win streak of the season, but since then have gone just 2-3-0. A record of 6-3-0 over nine games is perfectly acceptable, except for the troubling manner in which the Sharks lost the three games.
In each case, the Sharks led or held a tie at the second intermission. One can take a little solace in the fact that the first loss was most egregious—where the Sharks surrendered four goals in the third period of an otherwise scoreless game to lose 4-0 to the visiting LA Kings—but precious little solace that is.
In their last five games the Sharks have surrendered three or more goals four times, with the lone exception being Antti Niemi's second shutout as a Shark—1-0 over the Kings. Other statistics only expound on the major issues: lack of their usual offensive pop combined with suspect defense.
The Sharks have allowed an average of 33.2 shots against per game while logging just 27 of their own over the span. This should raise some eyebrows for a team used to enjoying a 33.2-28.8 shot advantage. Even the Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) favorite Logan Couture has experienced a sharp decline. In the five games he has just two points (both assists).
The ability to limit the span of the inevitable rut is one factor that separates great teams from the pack. The Sharks now find themselves with an opportunity to prove their mettle.
The Sharks have long been a team in search of the proverbial "60-minute effort." At least for the time being, it looks like the last 20 minutes need the lion's share of attention. If the Sharks can find a way to get that right, they could make a strong push to solidify their playoff position in what remains a wide-open Western Conference race.
Keep the Faith!