SAN JOSE The playoff race in the Western Conference has been whittled down to four teams clamoring for three spots, and if you believe the math, the Sharks are the least likely to make it of the four.
Theres been no shortage of opinions as to whats gone wrong for a club that was supposed to challenge for the Stanley Cup this year after two deep runs in each of the past two seasons (cue Ray RattoDrew Remenda).
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Here, in no particular order, are some of the more common notions why the Sharks are where they are, and why these reasons may or may not hold water. The answer probably lies somewhere in between.
They arent motivated
Why its true: This has obviously been the biggest criticism of the Sharks over the years, and the conversation usually begins with Patrick Marleau. The former Sharks captain hasnt shown the kind of effort youd expect from the teams second highest-paid player in the midst of a playoff push, as he has just two goals in his last 18 games. Marleau isnt the only one, though. Logan Couture has to be held accountable here, too. The second-year All-Star has just three goals in his last 15 games (two in the same game) since the NHLs trade deadline, which, coincidentally or not, was when he saw his best friend on the team traded to the Avalanche in Jamie McGinn.
Why it isnt: Statistically speaking, Couture and Marleau are still second and third, respectively, on the Sharks in scoring. Joe Thornton is another player that is often on the receiving end of being too relaxed, but his play on the ice and his numbers on the scoresheet reveal otherwise this season. Thornton has been the Sharks most consistent offensive threat for the past two months, and has at least a point in 21 of the last 31 games.
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Why its true: The Sharks are coming off of two deep runs in the past two springs, with generally the same group of corps players. Thats a lot of hockey. A nine-game, 15-day road trip to conclude February and 17 games in March havent helped matters, as the team hasnt had nearly enough time to practice or rest.
What it isnt: The Sharks had a light first half of the year, and that should have given them plenty of energy for the second half. Nearly everyone on the roster has gone through a Western Conference travel schedule before and should be plenty used to it by now.
They just arent good enough
Why its true: The Sharks have a top heavy offense, but their third and fourth lines dont produce enough and are too reliant upon young players like Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels, who are still learning the ropes of what it takes to play in the NHL. The defense, meanwhile, is as thin as its ever been. Colin White and Jason Demers have shown that they aren't everyday NHL players; Brent Burns shows some offensive flash but still makes at least one or two egregious errors a night, and goaltender Antti Niemi has not looked like the player who led Chicago to the Stanley Cup in 2010 or started 34 straight for the Sharks in the second half of last season.
Why it isnt: A lineup that includes Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Marty Havlat and Joe Pavleksi boasts as much top-end talent as there is in the NHL. There should be enough there to at least secure a playoff spot. Period.
Trades havent panned out
Why its true: The Jamie McGinn trade may be viewed as one of the worst deals of the Doug Wilson era for years to come and when realignment goes through, McGinn could end up being a thorn in the Sharks side while playing for a division rival in Colorado. Daniel Winnik has had his moments, but could easily walk at the end of the season as an unrestricted free agent. TJ Galiardi has been hurt, but hasnt done much when hes in the lineup, anyway. The acquisition of Dominic Moore has been a complete and utter failure. The center is essentially playing on the fourth line and has just four assists in 19 games and a -8 rating at the expense a high second round draft pick. Ouch.
Why it isnt: Winnik scored a couple of big goals last week during the teams three-game winning streak, and has seemed to find chemistry with Desjardins and Wingels. Hes also seen time on the penalty kill. Galiardi still has time to make in impact after returning from a back injury, and as a restricted free agent at the end of the year, the club could conceivably keep him around.
Why its true: Antti Niemis numbers this season arent terrible, but the goaltender has failed to both steal a game or make the big save something an NHL starting goaltender has to be able to do on occasion. He looks shaky in net when it comes to rebound control, and hasnt been able to find any sort of rhythm.
Why it isnt: Niemi cant score goals. The Sharks' offense has taken a step back this season, and their 2.51 team goals-against average is still eighth best in the NHL.