SAN JOSE- On Saturday night the San Jose Sharks could not have been set up any better on paper. Not only did they have an opportunity to retake the Pacific division lead with a victory but they were also hosting a team far below them in the standings. Said team, the Nashville Predators, were also playing in their second of back-to-backs after playing in Anaheim on Friday.
Time and time again this season the Sharks have lowered the boom on opponents coming into town in this type of situation, regardless of their place in the standings.
So the fact that San Jose was shutout 3-0 and held to just 16 shots through 40 minutes, has to be incredibly troubling to Sharks fans. San Jose is a team that often puts up 25-30 shots in their sleep through 40 minutes. Only 16 at home against a non playoff (although hot) team playing on back-to-back nights is simply inexcusable for a team stocked with so much talent.
“To give a showing like that is unacceptable. We didn’t come out to work” commented Sharks defenseman Jason Demers. “We just sat back on our heels. When a team plays last night, especially in Anaheim, we go to take it to them, get pucks behind them and fore-check them and [instead] we just kind of sat back and played their game.”
While San Jose has inexplicably given away points against teams well behind them in the standings this year, they probably deserved a better fate in many of those contests . Furthermore, it isn’t all that surprising for emotional let downs to happen here and there against these types of clubs. It is naive to think there will be the same emotion from shift to shift and game to game over an 82 game schedule.
However, with only four games left going into Saturday night’s tilt with a chance to take over first place, one would have expected much more of an emotional commitment from the Sharks. Quite arguably, it was their most disappointing loss of the season.
The Sharks did get a few quality first period chances from their top two lines, but there continues to be a noticeable drop off to the third line. For many this will be me beating a dead horse, but James Sheppard is simply not yet a good enough of a third line center. Despite playing phenomenal hockey most of the season as a fourth line winger and some opportunistic offense early on as a center, Sheppard’s two way game is not yet where it needs to be for that role.
In San Jose’s 2-1 win over the Kings on Thursday, Sheppard lost a face-off that led immediately to Los Angeles’ only goal on the night. In that game Sheppard was only four out of nine in the face-off circle.
On Saturday, Sheppard made an awful first period giveaway and was an abysmal three out of 12 in the dot, a horrid 25% success rate. His line had maybe one or two strong shifts over the course of the night. Sheppard, Marty Havlat, Tyler Kennedy and Matt Nieto all skated shifts as a part of that third unit. Only Nieto had a single shot on goal, he had four of them in total, but at least two of those came with the Sharks pressing in the third period down by three goals (read: those shots don’t really mean as much when the entire team is taking offensive chances they wouldn’t normally make in a close game).
Again, not to sound like a broken record but to go deep in the playoffs, teams need a bottom six that can play well at both ends. Right now, the Sharks are a two line team. And in the past, the Sharks have always run into problems at some point in the playoffs when deploying only two capable scoring lines. In 2009, they ran into a first round upset, in 2010 they didn’t come close to matching Chicago’s depth, and in 2012 they were smoked by the Blues for the quickest playoff exit in team history (just five games).
The 2011 and 2013 playoff runs were much stronger. In 2011 the Sharks were just a fluke bounce away from forcing a Game 6 back in San Jose in the Western Conference final series with Vancouver. It was a series where they were much, much closer in talent than in the previous conference final against Chicago. In 2013, the Sharks were also a fluke bounce away from knocking off the defending Stanley Cup Champion Kings and advancing to their third conference final in four years.
The 2011 and 2013 playoff lines featured Pavelski as the team’s third line center. You’ll have a hard time finding someone to suggest that the 2011 and 2013 runs weren’t better opportunities to hoist the Stanley Cup than 2009, 2010, and 2012. As mentioned here previously, Pavelski actually tallied more points as the third line center during 2011’s stretch run than he has as a top line left wing here in 2014. Given how Joe Thornton can significantly raise the level of play of lower level wingers who play next to him, (see Ekman, Nils., Setoguchi, Devin, and Galiardi, T. J.), seems odd to leave Pavelski in that spot when you consider No. 8 can produce just as much offense away from Thornton as he can with him.
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