Dec 10, 2013; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle (22) and New York Islanders right wing Cal Clutterbuck (15) throw a few punches during the first period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

San Jose Sharks: Getting Down To The Bottom Of Their Late-Game Struggles

After catapulting to first place in the Pacific Division and second in the league just a week ago, the San Jose Sharks now find themselves in the midst of a four-game losing streak. Yes, that may be a small skid for some, but for a Sharks team that is championship or bust again this season losses to middle of the pack teams or worse just cannot happen, let alone four times in a row.

Yes, the losing streak started with a blowout loss to the East’s best in the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they also lost to a New York Islanders team that was 0-8-2 in their last 10 games until Tuesday night. Also, twice in the last three games the Sharks have blown a two-goal lead in the third period.

The thing is this is becoming a big issue for the Sharks who have had problems keeping leads all season and once they gain that first period lead the have trouble keeping it.

Oddly enough where I thought the Sharks were playing the worst was in the second period where they have been abysmal as of late. Overall on the season though they are a +2. But, when I looked at all their games from the beginning of November the boys in teal were a Jekyll & Hyde case. On the road in the second period they were a -10 (in nine games) while at home they were a +5 (in nine games).

That was not the case though as they have fared even worse in the third period in that same 18 game span where at home they are a -4 and on the road a -7.

Perhaps it is just complacency since the Sharks are a +14 in goal differential in the first period during that 18-game span (and +28 on the season). Once they get the lead they take their foot off the pedal. They are relying too heavily on their great starts to cover up their deficiencies in closing out a game, and while that may work on at home that has not panned out on the road. Somehow though they have managed a 12-4-2 record.

If the Sharks want to become an elite team then they are going to have to learn how to close out games. It doesn’t matter how they do it either. They just need to take a page out of Nike and “just do it.”

Part of it seems to be that he Sharks get too loose and rather than sticking to the basics that got them there and instead they get to ‘cute’ offensively. Maybe it’s even energy levels as Todd McLellan said in a post-game interview after the loss to the Hurricanes. I find it hard to believe it is due to a lack of energy in those third periods though since the Sharks roll four lines quite often and very rarely shorten the bench.

Whatever it is San Jose needs to snap out of it, and quickly, before they start falling too far back in the Pacific Division and Western Conference races.

The one thing I hope the coaches realize too is to not hit the panic button too quickly. Unfortunately it seems they may be getting there already after seeing the lineups from the last game or two, or perhaps it was just an experiment. While the Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, and Joe Pavelski line was extremely dominant all game, the same could not be said for the rest and I think the Sharks are better off spreading their offensive talent around rather than condensing that into two lines.

Also, seeing Tyler Kennedy, who I feel has played well all season (even though he has not been producing) on the fourth line was a bit disheartening. Lastly, I’d like to see Matt Irwin in the lineup more often as he always seems to have a positive impact on the defensive corps as well as guys like James Sheppard and Mike Brown who skate hard night in and night out and are effective in limited minutes.

Unfortunately though with a team full of talent and limited roster spots, I understand that the coaches have tough decisions to make. After all, that’s why they get paid the big bucks and I don’t.

Tags: James Sheppard Joe Pavelski Logan Couture Mike Brown Patrick Marleau San Jose Sharks

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