San Jose Sharks' Special Teams Struggle Even in Victory

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIDecember 17, 2011

Avs killer Joe Pavelski scored a key goal to tie the game vs. Colorado
Avs killer Joe Pavelski scored a key goal to tie the game vs. ColoradoEzra Shaw/Getty Images

Every time I read an article or hear a broadcast that notes the Sharks' penalty kills are going well lately, it only takes one bad game to drop them right back to the bottom of the league.

Even when those claims are made, the standard is so low that it includes stretches of mediocrity or stretches as short as three games. Before giving up a goal on three straight opportunities in the home-and-home series against the Colorado Avalanche, the figure was a mere seven of eight.

The standard is so low, the Sharks were talking up their single kill to end Thursday's game. Please, stop!

If you need something to take your mind off your bad penalty kill (73 percent for the season), how about your bad power play?

After taking the collar yet again Thursday, they have converted just two of their last 32 chances (6.3 percent). In the process, they have dropped from second in the league to tied for 12th at 17.6 percent.

The problem is, this team does not have an identity. They are one of the biggest and most-skilled teams in the league, but they don't play fast or physical.

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Ryane Clowe, Martin Havlat, Dan Boyle and Brent Burns should not struggle on the power play. Not being able to cash in on these chances gives the opposition the leeway to push the envelope and frustrate the Sharks' five-on-five without fear of reprisal.

Ray Ratto recently suggested that the Sharks struggle against fast teams because they prefer to slow the game down. He also pointed to the team's obvious lack of urgency. Both explain why they give up the first goal in 60 percent of their games.

If San Jose had someone other than the currently injured Douglas Murray who other forwards would fear in the Sharks' zone, teams might still be concerned with reprisal. But even with Crankshaft, they are among the lightest-hitting teams in the league.

At least that helps keep them from going on the penalty kill too often.

However, the team must decide if they want to play fast or play more physically. The great Vince Lombardi once said, "You walk down the right side of the road or you walk down the left side of the road. If you walk down the middle, you get run over."

That is what's been happening to the Sharks over the last 10 games. Even through two periods on their own ice Thursday, the Sharks were scrambling with a 4-2 deficit.

Fortunately, they were up against one of the worst teams in the league. San Jose answered with goals by Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture in a span of just 4:29 to take the lead. They even killed the penalty between the tying and winning goals.

Still, the consistent effort was nothing to be proud of. Colorado blocked just under one of every three shots the Sharks attempted, while San Jose blocked just over one in every five of the Avs' attempts. The Sharks were out-hit 27-11 and had 10 more giveaways to just five more takeaways.

The comeback win may motivate them to play as carelessly against the Edmonton Oilers, who are only a few points better than Colorado and just 2-6-1 over their last nine games.

Regardless of the results on Saturday, San Jose needs to take advantage of one of the few remaining scheduled breaks of the season. Two days off sends the message that if you do not want to work hard for sixty minutes during the games, you will during practice.

Something like what Herb Brooks did to Team USA prior to the 1980 Olympics (see included video).

Despite the Oilers' overall struggles, their special teams are playing well. They have jumped into the top half of the league thanks to a 12-for-13 stretch on the PK, and they have converted four of their last 12 power plays to reach 21 percent for the season.

Obviously, the Sharks have to keep this game five-on-five to win. Thanks to their superior full-strength play, they enjoy a substantial edge in the faceoff circle (53.7 to 48.2 percent), average 7.9 more shots per game and give up 1.5 fewer than Edmonton.