A more fitting coincidence there never was. I was driving home from Las Vegas, listening to the San Jose Sharks radio broadcast as Dan Rusanowsky and Jamie Baker ably wrapped up the postmortem on a 1-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks that capped the Sharks first four-game losing streak of the year.
One of the Sharks' old nemeses, Jonas Hiller, had again stifled them in a game where they literally did everything but win. Hiller stopped every one of the Sharks 37 shots on goal to make a single tally from Bobby Ryan stand up for the win.
As Rusanowsky reminded listeners about the next exciting radio broadcast and signed off with his customary final reiteration of the game's score, the regular programming of the Watsonville affiliate resumed, and the familiar tones of Frank Sinatra's "Luck Be a Lady" rang through my car's stereo.
The obvious coincidence was a striking reminder that no matter how talented or powerful a team is, every champion requires a little luck. Nowhere was that more obvious than in Sunday night's game in Orange County.
The Sharks did nearly everything right but could not find a way to score against the enigmatic Hiller, and thus, could not avoid their first four-game skid of the season.
The Sharks outshot the Ducks 37-28, carried the pace and played very disciplined hockey—taking just two minor penalties, both in the third period and both times killing off the resulting opposing power play. While they beat Hiller on several occasions, they could not find the back of the net, as several sterling scoring changes ended with pucks ringing off the posts and crossbars.
In eight games since Christmas, the Sharks are 2-6-0. They have lost four straight for the first time all year and have been shut out three times in that span, twice in their last three games and seven times on the year. By contrast, the Sharks were shut out just nine times last season.
The Sharks have put 116 shots on net over their last three games and scored just one goal. What is more alarming, however, is they have had nearly as many shots blocked as they have put on net. This is not a new phenomenon for the Sharks and goes a long ways toward explaining how a team with such dynamic offensive weapons can be held to such poor goal production.
As Baker noted in his postgame analysis on Sunday, the majority of goals in the NHL come off second and third rebound scoring opportunities. Thus, having a single shot blocked could mean missing two to three chances to score.
The tumultuous post-Christmas slump follows immediately on the heels of the Sharks first four-game win streak of the year, capped by their win over the Phoenix Coyotes on December 23. The sudden swing can be attributed partially to a sudden shift in the overall fortunes of the team, but as the old saying goes, "you have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good."
Lady Luck is a fickled partner, who can greatly affect the outcome of close games. You never know when she will return, but you must be prepared to take advantage of the situation when she does. Great teams do not necessarily make their own luck, but they put themselves in the best situation to take advantage of the opportunities that luck presents. The Sharks have been starting to do this in their last several games, despite the less-than-favorable outcomes.
In the course of the slump, the Sharks have also plummeted from fourth in the Western Conference to 11th, on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. While many believe having to fight for their playoff lives could be the adversity that might finally carry the Sharks to a title, I remain thoroughly unconvinced.
The last time the Sharks stood a realistic chance of missing the playoffs was 2005-2006, when they would up as a No. 5 seed and lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the second round. After taking a 2-0 lead in the series, they dropped four in a row and were eliminated from contention.
A cheap shot by Raffi Torres on Milan Michalek crippled the speed on the Sharks second line and had a profound effect on the series, but injuries happen in any playoff run. The injury brought to the forefront the fact the Sharks had too little depth and highlighted the role fatigue can play on a team that has been jostling for playoff position in the months leading up to the playoffs.
The good news for the Sharks is that the Western Conference is still wide open. Only 13 points separate them from the top seed in the conference and they sit just three points back of the No. 4 Nashville Predators. A slight turnaround of their luck and modest win streak could put them right back in prime position. Plenty of time remains.
Keep the Faith!
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