Ratto: Sharks no longer swimming with NHL's elite

January 12, 2011, 7:39 am
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Its all numbers for Ron Wilson these days. Two nights ago, Tim Hunter celebrated 1,000 games as Wilsons assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Last night, Wilson won his 600th game, as the Leafs beat San Jose, 4-2. Later this week, he will celebrate his 1,300th career game.And by his estimation, the Leafs have to win two of every three games between now and the end of the season to consider being an Eastern Conference playoff team.In the meantime, the Sharks, who are in dramatically better shape than the Leafs, are in worse shape than theyve been in years.Losers of five in a row, they will now try to break that streak Thursday against Edmonton without centerbest player Logan Couture for at least a game and probably not much more after enduring what looked like a deep right leg bruise from the knee of Leaf enforcer Colton Orr.VIDEO: Logan Couture injury update
The good news: Couture went home without crutches but with a brace and a limp that was somewhere between noticeable and pronounced. Barring overnight swelling that provides evidence of structural damage, his time off the ice may be minimal.The bad: The Sharks cant really afford to be without him for even a shift, not the way theyre going.Once again, their offense produced shots without goals Patrick Marleau had both, but 40 other shots were handled in one method or other by rookie goalie James Reimer.But the defense broke down repeatedly in the Leafs four-goal third period, and head coach Todd McLellan might have had more energy to fulminate about the mistakes if he didnt already have one eye and one ear trained for any Couture news.Weve been whining and bitching about our offense lately, but tonight it was our defensive commitment that let us down in the third period, he said. Just a lot of mistakes that we shouldnt be making. The only way were going to get out of this is to keep working, improve our defensive play, remain disciplined and to stick together.This lack of fire, let alone brimstone, is the sound of a coach who knows when ripping the team to the media is worse than not doing it. McLellan doesnt look beaten or desperate, but he knows the longer the slump lasts, the harder it will be to get out of it.Nobody knows that more than Wilson, though, the man who was fired in San Jose to make room for McLellan. Wilson has been pushing the tractor motor uphill in Toronto almost since the day he arrived, and Tuesdays win merely put the Leafs into a tie for 11th, 11 points behind eighth-place Atlanta.RELATED: NHL Standings
Tuesday, though, was a good night without qualification for the veteran coach.Its good that I was able to do it here, he said between deflections of credit. Pretty special. The last time we were here, we ran into a buzzsaw, were down 4-0 in the first period and we had no chance, and the last time up there, I thought we should have won.But we were a little bit fortunate tonight, we ran into a team thats been squeezing the sticks a little hard lately.Squeezing? The Sharks have been leaving trails of fiberglass and tooth enamel through most of the season, and it may be dawning on them that their issues may not be effort- but talent-related.They look slower than the elite teams, they get to the spots they want a tad slower than they need to, they barely break even in the faceoff circle and along the wall, and their shot flurries come from far out and dont produce enough quality rebound attempts.More to the point, though, they are finding out for the first time in years how the other half lives the half that plays golf in April and gets lectures from the teams that are still playing. It is still far too early to make such declarations, but slumps bring out the worst the expectations of others, and right now the Sharks look as close to inert as they have since before Ron Wilson got here.486 games ago.

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