Fri Jan 14 12:38pm EST
What's gone wrong? What have been the reaction to their struggles? And, most importantly: Could the Sharks or the Kings actually end up missing the playoff cut?
Statistically, the Sharks have been the bigger calamity. Consider:
• Their 10-10-3 record at the Shark Tank after going 59-11-12 there the previous two seasons.
• The Sharks having given up more goals (126) than they've scored (121) as a team. The last time they finished on the minus side for total goals was 2002-03.
The Sharks need a shooter from the point, maybe two defencemen. They have no pop from their third or fourth lines (14 goals from the two lines, none from Jamie McGinn(notes) in 43 games). They are in the New Jersey Devils-Ottawa Senators neighbourhood for five-on-five scoring. Their goaltending has been average.
Fact is, the Sharks could easily miss the post-season. Since 2000, they have had fewer than 95 points only once (2002-03 when they finished with 73). But if 95 is the playoff cutoff this season, they must get cracking. Going into Thursday's game, they needed 48 points in their last 38 games, and that would be to finish eighth for the final playoff spot
David Pollak of the Mercury News told us on PD Radio that "this is obviously not the same Sharks team you've seen before" and that its star players are "underperforming across the board." No kidding.
Sandwiched between the more standard ideas about changing line combinations and using new approaches to practice was this one:
"Maybe some guys need to watch a few games."
No, he didn't say which guys and I don't think it would have done me any good to ask for names. After the scrum, I did ask McLellan if he was seriously considering benching some of his regulars and got somewhat understandably snapped at: "I wouldn't have said it if I wasn't considering it."
Something has to change. The natives are restless. From Fear The Fin:
The Sharks have used their improving play throughout the losing streak to suggest that the team is on their way out of this current stretch of substandard play. Tonight, I don't know if there's much of anything to build off of. The defensive lapses, inability to score and perceived lack of effort which have characterized this six game slide were all too present tonight as the Sharks dropped a disappointing match to one of the league's bottom dwellers.
Looking at last year for instance, in December the Sharks dropped five straight with four of those being at home and that fifth one being an away game in AZ. That particular pattern sounds quite familiar, and just like now when you flip open your Mercury News today or happen to catch the 39 seconds of allotted hockey time on KNBR, the media back then was all over the Sharks as "underachievers", "soft" and "overhyped".
Now, the Sharks were absolutely those things last year and are those things right now, but they also did something about it last season. In fact, the 2009-2010 Sharks responded to last year's media skewering by ripping off eight straight, and then 16 of 19 to calm the Faithful's nerves and effectively shut up the sky-is-falling crowd. Last year's torrid and otherworldly winning streak is starting to be the kind of response the Sharks are going to require this year...starting now...to not only invigorate the flinching Faithful but get back into playoff contention.
The Sharks don't have a monopoly on angst. Eric Cooney of ProSportsBlogging notes that the Kings are 1-6-0 in their current homestand:
It's hard to believe the Kings might escape an 8 game home stand with just 1 win, but if they lose to Edmonton on Saturday, that's exactly what will happen.
If that happens, I'd be surprised if Dean Lombardi doesn't make some decisive action. A firing, a trade, a recall, a waive, or anything that can shake this team by the collar and say, "Wake up! You're way too talented to be playing this poorly!"
We're at the halfway point this season and with the Western Conference so log jammed the Kings don't have a point to waste.
Frozen Royalty had this great take from Coach Terry Murray who, let's face it, could end up being the change made to kick-start this team if it doesn't turn around:
"When you've got a young hockey club like this, it's part of the process of dealing with that and learning how to become accountable, and how to hold a player accountable."
"That's not an easy thing to do," Murray added. "If you're standing in there as a player and you've got 19 teammates, and you're going to challenge somebody for something that happened, or for not doing something the right way, you'd better know what you're talking about and you'd better be able to go out there and do it yourself."
"That only comes from true experience and a good, veteran hockey club, because you can push yourself away from your team as a young guy if you just stand up and start to say things that are not correct. It's a fine line, and I don't think we are quite there with that veteran group in there yet to be able to step up and have that personality to [say] the right thing."
Both the Kings and the Sharks are too damn good to be on the outside looking in, now or at the end of the season. At least, in theory. The fact is that as we race past the midpoint of the season, the Dallas Stars aren't fading. The Phoenix Coyotes are, once again, playing like a Dave Tippett team and in contention. Ditto Barry Trotz and the Nashville Predators, and Randy Carlyle and the Anaheim Ducks (who've yet to get Getzlaf back).
The West is unpredictable after the two seed. The Kings and Sharks are only three off the pace. But both have disappointed in unanticipated ways, making you wonder if there's something deeper at play here than just failing to meet expectations.