Aside from Pittsburgh, I love the San Jose Sharks. Lately though I've become concerned about their playoff chances. Last nights win against Edmonton did more to convince me that the Sharks are in trouble than any of the past two weeks of overtime losses.
It seems that every time I watch or listen to a game the Sharks let themselves get dominated in the third period. Edmonton is a playoff caliber team in the middle of a battle for their playoff lives. They are desperate for points and will work hard to get them. Against a team like that you can't sit on a two goal lead no matter how good your goalie is. The Sharks had outshot Edmonton 23-10 through the first two periods, only to be outshot 13-6 in the third. Nabby was brilliant, but as the recent string of OT losses should've shown them you cannot rely on a goalie to be brilliant every night.
Against Boston the Sharks came out in the third period and dominated. Boston had only one shot in the first 14 minutes and only six total. The Bruins spent most of that time in their own zone. It wasn't until the end when they were able to get into the zone and sustain pressure on the Sharks, and by that time the game was over.
They pressured Pittsburgh the next night, but received just as much pressure in return.
This isn't something new. In fact this third period disappearance has been going on since before Christmas. Against the New York Rangers on December 21 the Sharks went into the third period with a 3-2 lead. They were dominated in the third by the Rangers and Nabby was forced to make 17 saves to win the game.
The Sharks need to learn to finish teams. As I keep saying every time I post in the forums, the playoffs are a completely different animal than the regular season. The teams that win in the playoffs are consistant from one period to the next. They finish teams off or they lose because they didn't. If you want the perfect example look at Detroit in the Cup finals last year. They outshot the Penguins by a large margin in almost every game, and they won four of the six games. In the 4-0 blowout of game one they forced the Penguins to take six penalties and outshot Pittsburgh 25-7 in the last two periods. Of Detroit's five penalties, all but one were in the first period when Pittsburgh came out strong and kept the game even in shots on goal.
There are other indicators that you can look at to see how good a team is. The one thing you can't look at is the record by itself. This is the defense I always here from Sharks fans. "We're 38-8-9! How is that not consistant?" I agree that the Sharks have a good record, but the truth is that they have not gone 38-8-9 in a playoff format against any team, let alone against the teams they will likely play.
Against Edmonton, Dallas, and Detroit (the three teams that elminated San Jose in the second round over the last three years) the Sharks are a combined 7-1-1. But before celebrating that the Sharks are 3-0-0 against Dallas remember that the Sharks have not played the Stars in 2009. The 2-1-0 record against Detroit is good, but that one loss was a 6-0 blowout. Against Edmonton the Sharks are 2-0-1, but again this is just a reasonable record considering how good everyone thinks the Sharks really are.
Also when considering these records we have to remember the time between each game. There are multiple games for both teams between each meeting with Edmonton. It is possible for San Jose to catch a team on the second of back-to-back games (like one of their wins against Detroit) while the Sharks are well rested. The other team could be playing with a backup goalie to rest their starter after a long stretch. The Sharks could be on a hot streak while another team is on a cold streak. These are things that happen during the regular season, but rarely (if ever) during the postseason.
The Sharks will play Edmonton like they did last night, have tonight off, then play Edmonton again. They don't get to rest by playing Pittsburgh or Toronto or Atlanta. Playing third periods like they did against New York or Edmonton will give a team momentum to come out firing in the next game even if they lost two nights ago.
I think the Sharks have a team that can win the cup, but I thought that in 2006 and 2007 too. In order to win they will have to find a way to finish teams in the third period on a nightly basis.