SAN JOSE- The San Jose Sharks lost again on Saturday night, this time at the hands of arguably the best team (in the truest sense of the word) in the league, the St. Louis Blues. While a 3-1 final score doesn’t sound lopsided, one could make a strong case that Saturday’s effort was the weakest we’ve seen from the Sharks in a long, long time.
Even during the recently-completed 2-6-1 road trip, the Sharks weren’t ever as severely flat as they were against the Blues. At one point, the Sharks were being out-shot 25-10, something you just don’t see at the HP Pavilion very often, at least not in the visitors favor.
While San Jose’s leading goal scorer Logan Couture returned to the lineup, the Sharks appeared to be worse with the puck than they were without him on Thursday night.
It was an all around bad game for a team mired in a bad stretch.
However, the most concerning trend as of late doesn’t involve the on-ice performance at all.
Nope, the players not on the ice is the biggest bewilderment regarding the Sharks in quite some time.
On Thursday against the Sabres, rookie center Andrew Desjardins was oddly left out of the lineup for the first time in 19 games despite providing consistent fourth line minutes all season.
And on Saturday versus St. Louis, fellow center Michal Handzus and defenseman Jason Demers joined Desjardins up the press box.
Handzus hasn’t been playing up to his normal standards as of late, but has proven to be a more valuable asset than, say, Jim Vandermeer, who remained in the lineup against the Blues.
Furthermore, with Douglas Murray back in the lineup on defense, the obvious move would be for the struggling Colin White to come out of the lineup. Instead, Demers, was the odd man out, despite playing much better than White for the majority of the season.
San Jose’s top six defenders are widely agreed upon to include Demers and Braun, with White and Vandermeer as the seventh and eighth defenders. Why, then, does Demers visit the press box?
Your guess is a good as mine. The Sharks coaching staff has given little in the way of information regarding how they come to the decision on who plays and why.
For instance, against the Blues, Vandermeer and the recently acquired T. J. Galiardi did not play a single shift in the final two periods. And Brad Winchester was a non factor as well, sitting out the entire second period and the majority of the third. Vandermeer finished with three shifts and 1:43 in ice time, Galiardi with four shifts and 2:30 in ice time and finally Winchester led the group with eight shifts and a hefty 3:46 in ice time.
The word peculiar doesn’t even begin to describe the decision to basically play the entire hockey game without a fourth line against a team like St. Louis, that can skate with the best in the league.
Despite being at home where they can get the last change, assistant coach Matt Shaw told the media afterwards that the situation in the game and the matchups dictated the limited ice for the fourth line.
However, the Blues were up merely one goal at the beginning of the second period when the Sharks decided to essentially bench Vandermeer and Galiardi, who might as well have been playing cards in the dressing room.
Considering Galiardi is known for his above average speed, one would think that his type of talents would be leaned on heavily in this type of game. Plus it’s not as if Galiardi is a typical fourth line player. This is a winger who has certainly struggled this season but 2:30 in ice was by far the lowest amount he’s ever seen in his NHL career.
Word in the media has it that Galiardi and his now-former head coach Joe Sacco didn’t see eye to eye in Colorado, and just three games into his tenure with the Sharks, Galiardi is already seeing his ice time diminish.
With White and Vandermeer in the lineup and Galiardi and Demers effectively both out of the lineup, the Sharks chose not to put their fastest team on the ice against a quick skating club.
For a locker room that looked and sounded like an incredibly close knit group during the middle of the year, the current downward spiral and odd playing time decisions makes one wonder.
Is there something going on behind the scenes that is lowering this team’s morale more than just losing games?
Do the players fully believe in this coaching staff? A staff that leaves their worst performer in the lineup while healthy scratching a puck-moving defenseman in a game against a speedy opponent?
A staff that would rather suit up Vandermeer at forward over Handzus and Desjardins?
Something smells fishy.