Maybe this is a bad time to write this.
I'm always pretty harsh on my Sharks, but sorting out my thoughts on them during a skid that has repeatedly exposed every flaw that this team has to offer is a terrible idea. I'm supposed to be thinking positive and productive thoughts, not coming down from a bender, weeping in my unlit apartment alone with no shirt and just a pair of shorts(I'm going commando!) and socks on. I'm probably gonna rip Thornton and Marleau, call Clowe overrated, and say something like 'if we had a top 6 made of 6 Pavelskis, there would be a Stanley Cup banner at HP!' I always get into this ranting mood when my team is struggling.
We're at the quarter mark of the season and I can't help but feel dejavu. The Sharks are in the midst of a bad stretch of games...and even before I start ranting, I feel like I must preface this by saying that I feel like I've been harping on the same issues I'm about to bring up for a while. Not like 'Since the offseason.' Not 'Since last season'. No, not even 'Since before McLellan was coach.' I've followed this team for such a long time, and the problems have always been the same. And the sources always seem to be the same.
First, I need to keep things in perspective. I don't want to base my statements on my own expectations of the Sharks. What did we expect coming into this season? On paper, their top 6 was as good as it gets. On paper, their special teams should be outstanding. On paper, their defense was upper-echelon. In short, the Sharks looked like a legit Cup contender to start the season. I've heard that before, and I know you probably have, too. We can skip to what's going wrong.
This team is impossibly to just enjoy for me. They're frustrating, they're underachieving, and I don't like the continued trends of the Sharks like poor-in-hindsight trades and draft picks. To me, the most disappointing aspect of this team is unquestionably the defense. Burns hasn't just had a couple problems here and there, he's turning over the puck right in front of the goaltenders just as often as Wallin ever did. Boyle keeps getting beat in key moments and is also developing a nasty turnover habit. Murray keeps finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Demers seems to be either good enough or a liability, but never excellent. White has been better than Wallin, which isn't saying too much but considering he's half the price...Ok. So the only players on defense that I feel have been consistently positive are Vlasic, and the depth guys Braun/Vandemeer. I'm going to try to remain optimistic and believe that Dan Boyle isn't turning into Tomas Kaberle...But, dammit, this is dejavu. I've convinced myself to sugarcoat the situation before.
No more, I say! Let's be honest about the problems on defense...
1) It's hard to ignore the head-scratching amount of you-know-better-than-that/I'm-not-mad-just-disappointed moments we've seen from Dan Boyle so far this season. He's a good 2 seasons removed from being a top point producer from the blue line, and it's not illogical at his age to say that we've probably seen his best days. He's still good, but he's showing signs of aging. He's getting beat repeatedly on goals, losing battles to pucks, and he's no longer earning his SH time. And most importantly/alarmingly...opposing teams smell blood and are attacking his side of the ice. Maybe all the ice time he's logged over the past few seasons is finally coming back to bit him in the ass. Maybe what we see is the result of 2 consecutive deep playoff runs + Olympics Gold-medal run, on top of being the iron-man ice time leader in his mid-30s. Boyle has some great games left in him, to be sure, but he's just not as good as he used to be. While he's an asset, he certainly wouldn't fetch his current salary on the open-market right now. In my honest opinion, Boyle is probably the 3rd most valuable defenseman on the team, behind Vlasic/Burns. And, quite frankly, the drop-off in Boyle's play takes him away from the list of players who a young player simply can't replace, and by that I mean the fraternity of players in the league that a call-up can't simply come in and provide equal effect on the game of. The Thorntons/Girouxs/Webers/Keiths.
Not 100% clear? Fine, how about this...I would take Justin Braun's A-game over Dan Boyle's game over the past 1.5 seasons. With Boyle making so many mistakes(19th in the league in give-aways) that end up in the back of the net, the bipolar power play, and the penalty kill suffering, I just don't see what he's bringing to the table anymore that Braun isn't capable of. That's not to say Boyle sucks, because he doesn't, but just that he's not on that 'irreplacable-by-youth' level anymore.
2) I believe in Murray, but let's face it...if he's repeatedly making mistakes that end up in the back of the net, he's not doing his job. He doesn't fight often, he's solid but he's never shut down anyone in the playoffs, and he's just never going to make a highlight reel play I'm glad that he's in a position where he doesn't have to be the 2nd best defenseman on the team anymore...because he isn't the 2nd best defenseman on the team anymore. He was built to shut down the second-teir opponents, not the Sedins. I chalk up my frustrations with Murray to him just being in the wrong places at the wrong times. However, I expect that trend to end. What goes unexplained is how he, along with Boyle/Burns, are in the top 50 in the league in giveaways.
3) I don't mind Burns not producing massive points, and I'd be extremely happy with him if not for the fact that, even while the team was winning and receiving praise, Burns was turning over the puck like a mad man. Currently residing at #2, he is currently one bad game from overtaking Kovalchuk for the league lead in giveaways. He only has 2 more than Joe Thornton, which I'll address later. To be fair, we were warned of this aspect of Burns' game.
...But really? You're gonna give Hossa a drop pass right infront of Niemi?
I think the rate of turnovers will come in time. Burns has been a pretty solid defender, and has had a number of highlight reel plays on the defensive end so far. He hits hard, and most of his game has exceeded my expectations. And I'm really not surprised to see one of Boyle/Burns struggle a little bit out of the gate...But you should expect your team to fail when 3 of your top 4 D-men are all in the top 50 in the league in giveaways, with Thornton/Pavelski joining them. And you know what? The Sharks still have one of the best records in hockey. Which brings me to my point...Execution.
I understand that every fan base has frustrations with their team. I get it. We all want our teams to execute to their potential. But the Sharks have a habit of finding ways to stop executing at horrible times and for long stretches of time. They find spectacular ways to lose games. We're repeatedly left begging for just 1 '60-minute effort', let alone a string of games consisting of 60-minute efforts, let alone having 'consistent 60-minute efforts' as a part of the team identity. Statistically, they have a strong power play, but anyone who watches the Sharks consistently knows that the power play is underachieving. I get it, the PP% is great. But It's been a while since I thought the powerplay was "clicking".
Am I talking about the 2011-2012 Sharks, or am I talking about the Sharks organization since the lockout?
Ok, I don't want to leave any room to wiggle out of my words. I'm talking about the Sharks since the lockout, since they acquired Joe Thornton, since the core of the current team came together. It was right around then that Murray/Vlasic/Clowe/Pavelski/Mitchell were making their way into full-time roles with the Sharks. Right when Boyle was acquired. Since then, the Sharks have always been a team that you never feel like you're getting 100% out of. You get a powerplay that could hum at 40% if Clowe ever parked his immovable body infront of the net, let alone if they received consistent efforts in general. You get a team that takes some of the dumbest sequences of penalties you've ever seen.
How many times have you heard Joe Thornton explain a bad play with "Sometimes, that's just hockey."
How many times does Dan Boyle have to explain a game-costing mistake postgame?
How many times has Clowe taken a horrible penalty and said "That'll never happen again."
Havlat hasn't been scoring, which combined with lackluster scoring from the 3rd line provides the yearly scoring depth problems. And the 30-something year old defenseman that Doug Wilson brought in hasn't worked out like it was supposed to.
Yeah, Dejavu. This is the same Sharks team as every year, just different names on the back. That's not a terrible thing...They'll get back in the W column soon and be a force in the playoffs. They're still a Cup contender. But for this to end differently, certain trends need to change...
1) Stop turning the puck over. 5 players in the top 50, 4 in the top 30...the math adds up to that being a bad thing. With math on my side, I must be correct!
2) 60-minute efforts for as many games as possible. I know that no team has ever sustained 60-minute efforts in every single game of an entire season. And even dominating performances can have 5-10 minutes of play where the opposition was the better team. But I'm so tired of coming away from games thinking that the Sharks lost because they got outworked. SICK OF IT. (I'm of the firm opinion that 2+ Stanley Cup banners would be in the Shark Tank if this wasn't a part of the Sharks' long-established identity)
3) Havlat needs to score. He will, but dammit...Score! That 1.9% shooting percentage won't persist.
5) Stop taking stupid penalties/Better PK. Ranked 30th on the PK, that's gotta change. Captain obvious!
Lastly, I have to address the 3rd line. I'm a believer in McGinn. I really thought he was unlucky last year, which killed his stats and, by his own admission, his confidence. He's been scoring lately, and he'll need to continue...But I think the Sharks need another guy capable of providing some offensive push beyond just cycling the puck endlessly. The player that makes sense to me is Hemsky from Edmonton. He's silky smooth, and he's really a right-handed Havlat(which would sound more appetizing if Havlat were playing well right now). Yeah, that would be an even more star-studded line up, but my philosophy is this...I'd rather have 3 lines capable of pushing the play than 2 excellent lines with 2 iffy-ones. And I haven't been satisfied with the results of 'spreading the scoring' in the line-up to date.
"I'm frustrated with the ongoing flaws of this team. Doug Wilson will make a move, he always does." - Me in 2009(I looked it up)
I've heard this before.