San Jose Sharks: As Frustration Mounts, Will Change Do Them Good?

Patrick Goulding IIAnalyst IJanuary 15, 2011

Bounces have not been going the way of San Jose of late, but wholesale changes might not be the answer.
Bounces have not been going the way of San Jose of late, but wholesale changes might not be the answer.

The San Jose Sharks are caught in a vicious cycle of frustration and disappointing results.

The Sharks have lost six straight games for the first time all year and six straight home games for the first time in 14 years. The really scary part: Some signs suggest nothing short of the All-Star break itself at the end of this month will put the brakes on this skid.

The Sharks lost six straight games at one point last year, and still managed to finish with the top seed in the Western Conference. But the Sharks started that slump from a position of power—enjoying a comfortable lead in the top spot of the Western Conference standings. This year they began their swoon in fourth place in an historically tight race.

The slump has seen them fall from No. 4 to No. 11 in the West.

Following a 5-2 loss to the last-place Edmonton Oilers—which simultaneously prevented the Sharks from attaining their first ever season sweep of the Edmontonians and extended their losing streak to six games (and six overall at home)—head coach Todd McLellan hinted that lineup changes could be imminent.

Certainly, things have not been working recently on the score board for the Sharks, and in that way, change is not only warranted but necessary. Still the Sharks must tread a fine line between finding the tweaks that help them pull out of their slump, and disrupting the elements that have helped them dominate statistically, despite the final scores.

The Sharks may be losers of six straight, but they have not been playing that poorly. They consistently come out with strong effort and have proven the ability to literally skate circles around their opponents. The pucks just cannot find the net.

In the course of their six game losing streak, the Sharks have been out-scored 19-8 and shut out twice. But they have also out-shot opponents 236-178, taken 21 penalties while drawing 26, controlled the pace of play for long stretches and ranged from solid to dominant in the faceoff circle.

Why the poor results? Frustration and bad luck are a tricky combination.

The Sharks have not been getting the types of bounces they usually do around the net, and this has driven them to frustration early in the course of games. They abandon solid team hockey, and start taking every possible shot they can get at the net.

This results in a deluge of rubber on the opposing net, but few if any of the resulting shots are particularly dangerous. The Sharks are failing to screen the opposing goaltender, and failing to keep him honest as he knows exactly what to expect. This has allowed the likes of Pekka Rinne, Jonas Hiller and Devan Dubnyk to rack up All-Star-caliber stats without having to make All-Star-caliber saves.

Defense is a similar story. While the Sharks have been mostly solid at protecting their own zone, their inability to put pucks in the net leads to third-period deficits causing the Sharks to take risks they would not normally take. This often results in killer scoring chances for the opposition and a lit lamp behind Antti Niemi or Antero Niittymaki.

You do not need to pepper the net with 40 shots per night to score effectively, just be able to create and capitalize on quality scoring chances. The Sharks opponents have been getting the vast majority of quality scoring chances of late, but that does not mean the Sharks have not been working hard enough. In fact, it could well mean the Sharks are working too hard.

Frustration is a powerful thing. It can keep you stuck in a downward spiral for much longer than it ought to. The most difficult part is that the harder you try to break the cycle, the more risks you convince yourself you have to take, and the worse the outcome gets. This, in turn, breeds more frustration, and often only strengthens the desire to try harder yet to break the cycle.

A few tweaks could be the change that finally sparks a turn around to the Sharks' recently-dismal luck. But the Sharks must be careful not to over-think the situation as they search for the answer to what ails them. That could only make matters worse.

The challenge the Sharks face is finding the resolve they will need to stick to the elements of their game that have been working, until their luck turns around. Trying to force a change of fortunes is unlikely to yield the results they seek.

Keep the Faith!