Should the Sharks Be In Panic Mode?


The last time I wrote about San Jose, they were on a seven-game unbeated streak and were among the best teams in the league, albeit very early on in the season.  Now, just about two weeks later, they are struggling to stay afloat and are now on a seven-game winless streak that has shown numerous holes throughout the team.  But, is it panic time yet?  Do we start blowing up the team, which some have been asking Doug Wilson to do for years, or is it just another slump?

Why It Looks to Only Be a Slump

Feb 15, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery (30) makes a save on a shot from San Jose Sharks center Patrick Marleau (12) during the third period at the United Center. Chicago won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

While saying the Sharks have struggled scoring as of late is an undestatement, at least their defense has been there.  And everyone’s favorite sports cliche ‘defense wins championships’ can at least somewhat apply here.

Their defense and goaltending have been great and aside from two, maybe three bad games have kept the Sharks in almost every game.  That is a great sign for a team that has as much talent as San Jose does.  Even if the offense is only partially productive, as long as the defense stays strong, they can easily be competitive.

Then there is the issue of Patrick Marleau.  Listen, he’s been streaky his whole career, and we knew that he would regress back to the mean sooner rather than later.  The tear he was on at the beginning of the season was great, but it was not going to last forever.

Now, do not get this confused with the puck movement of the defense which has been awful.  Their inability to break out of the zone on a consistent basis is something to be concerned about, expecially with talented puck handlers on the back end like Brent Burns and Dan Boyle.

Yet another issue, turnovers, has plagued the team all sesaon.  They are first in the league at 150 giveaways this season.  That is bad, and it shows why San Jose is struggling.  They are a team who relies on puck possession, so when they do not have the puck much throughout the game they cannot get their game going and thus are unable to gain many quality scoring chances.

So what is the positive in all this?  Well, all these things that can be fixed with a bit of practice and attention to detail.  Just look at the penalty kill which was awful the first few games.  However, once things came together they have been impenetrable.  If the team gets its act together this slump will be over before we know it, and they can get back to being the best team in the Pacific division.  Well, that is if they can catch the red-hot Anaheim Ducks and their rookie goaltender.

Why It Might be Time to Press the Big Red ‘Panic’ Button

While the team seemed to be firing on all cylinders at the beginning of the season, in reality it was not.  They power play carried the offense, and since it has fizzled out we have seen how bad the Sharks are while playing at even-strength.  Even the Blackhawks color commentator Eddie Olczyk commented on how slow the Sharks looked against Chicago at even strength in their first two meetings of the season.

The statistics seem to prove that as well (and actually look a bit better than expected, thanks to that great defense) as the Sharks are 16th in the league at 5v5 +/- per 60 minutes breaking even (meaning a rating of 0.0).  In contrast, the best team is the Ducks scoring a +1.5 while the worst team in the league, the Florida Panthers, are a -1.1.

Then there are the guys who are not producing which includes anyone not named Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, and Couture.  While you want these guys to do a majority of the

February 2, 2013; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks left wing Ryane Clowe (29) warms up before the game against the Nashville Predators at HP Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

heavy lifting, when they hit slumps like this, it is depth that counts. Unfortunately, guys like Clowe, Galiardi, Gomez, Sheppard and Burish all still do not have a goal a quarter of the way into this season. Then add in Handzus and Wingels who have only scored once and you see what little depth the Sharks actually have.

That’s extremely worrisome because without depth, teams can easily focus their attention on essentially one line (Marleau-Thornton-Pavelski) and not even have to worry about a second or third line doing damage against them, thus rendering San Jose’s attack even more useless.

Another key to me is that Todd McClellan seems to be panicking himself.  He is CONSTANTLY juggling lines and while that can work and help find some good line combos, it can have adverse effects too in the form of unfamiliartiy with one’s teammates.  To me it shows that he is panicking as well because he cannot seem to find line combinations that seem to fit the team, with the exception of a few.  Also, I have to assume he notices it really is not working, but keeps doing it.  Perhaps he does not know what else to do?

The Verdict?

In the end I still think it’s too early to push that panic button, but I know many might disagree.  The constant calls for a demolition of a team will not be warranted unless San Jose misses or barely makes the playoffs next year.  I still think the Sharks will make the playoffs this year, but if they do not get their act together soon it could be another long playoff run like last season where they were in a dogfight from the second-half of the season on.