Dear San Jose Sharks,
Did you peak too early? Because the play of this team is far from inspired, and I am concerned.
Winning the Stanley Cup is the only thing that matters to me, and what I am seeing tells me you are not ready to win the Cup. For instance:
- You are not beating the teams that you are supposed to. Columbus came into Saturday's game with more losses than wins (an overtime/shootout loss is a loss), having played and traveled the night before, and with half the team sick or hurt, including its top three goalies. You were rested and had three players out, two of which play on checking lines.
- You do not consistently win the games you really need. You needed this one because you had two previous losses and were staring at four more games against teams either currently in the playoffs or who won the Eastern Conference last season; that one is on the second of back-to-back nights, to boot.
- You have to avoid a long letdown after big games. Since beating Detroit Jan. 17, you have been flat, particularly on offence. You have gotten only 13 shots past goalies in six games, losing three of them even though four of the six were at home.
- You cannot have any one player indispensable. It could be argued that some of the above trouble was because Dan Boyle was hurt for three games, during which only six shots beat a goalie.
- You have gotten fat off the highest percentage of home games in the league, while playing the fewest number of games overall. This means you will have the most grueling travel schedule in the league over the remaining nine weeks.
Should you be hitting the panic button? Heck, no! There are 32 games left.
But there are concerns, and I think low expectations from fans lead to low expectations by teams. Ask players if letting down their guard is allowed in places like Montreal, where Stanley Cups are the only acceptable goal and regular season success is meaningless.
We all need to raise our expectations. We are sick of hearing about playoff chokes, whether justified or not. We must expect a level of performance that we know means you are ready for postseason success so those comments will not be heard again.
I bring these expectations to you because I expect you to play better. I expect you to play better because I know how good you are. Here is why I still believe in you:
- You are top five in offence, defence, power play, and penalty kill. No other team can say that.
- You have twice won games in the same week in which one required six-plus goals and the other was 2-1.
- You win a lot of close games, going 15-2-7 in one-goal games.
- You have overcome injuries to key players, including a stretch without two of your top four defencemen and another without your top goalie.
- You have balanced scoring. Eight players have 30-plus points and two more have at least two dozen; four of them are defencemen. An astounding 18 players have scored a game-winner, with only six doing so more than once.