Sharks on crash course with full makeover

McLellan: 'That's a tough pill to swallow'

Sharks on crash course with full makeover
March 9, 2013, 5:00 pm
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The Sharks are averaging 2.35 goals per game, fewer than in any season in franchise history. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

BOX SCORE

Well, that was different. San Jose did goals -- three of them. The Sharks also managed a power play goal from its second unit, the second one all season, and since the first one came from the hologram that is Martin Havlat, it may as well be one.

On the other hand, they also blew a 3-1 lead, losing to the St. Louis Blues, 4-3, and doing it in overtime, thereby further confounding the management and customer base, not to mention themselves.

[RECAP: Blues 4, Sharks 3 (OT)]

At least we presume they are confounded. They play hard, they defend with spirit, they typically get good goaltending, and have come to grips with the fact that they are not a good team without those attributes.

But there is a problem with playing nothing but low-scoring, extra-time games, one that should be dawning on the Sharks if it hasn’t already.

They have a hard time building momentum, let alone distance on other teams, when they do as they did Saturday -– allowing the opponent a standings point (or in this case, two) every time they play.

Saturday’s game, their 18th since Jan. 27, was the 16th in which the other side improved in the standings. And since all the Sharks do is play Western Conference teams, every point lost is doubly damaging. Peruse, at your peril, the points for/points against since February 1, when the Sharks stopped being the undefeated offensive powerhouse and become the oft-defeated Amish attacking team:

TEAM            PF   PA
CHICAGO          32   11
ANAHEIM          30   12
DALLAS             21   15
DETROIT           21   21
LOS ANGELES    20  12
VANCOUVER      20   18
PHOENIX          20    20
CALGARY          19    19
NASHVILLE       18    22
COLUMBUS       17    23
COLORADO       16    22
SAINT LOUIS    16    23
MINNESOTA     15   19
SAN JOSE        13    26
EDMONTON     12    27

And with seven of their next nine games on the road (at Colorado, at St. Louis, home and home with Los Angeles, at Anaheim, at Edmonton, at Minnesota, and then home and home with Anaheim), they are out of time to fix what ails them.

Before Saturday’s game, a kind soul could make the case that the next five games would tell us what kind of team they are. Well, we know what kind of team they are. A diligent, industrious group who wishes to do well but skates slowly (if earnestly) and cannot score if a goal would bring global peace and prosperity.

They are, against Feb. 1, the worst scoring team in the NHL by a comfortable margin. The worst. Period. The other two times they managed this feat was in their first year of existence (when they finished 22nd of 22 teams in total record), and 1996-7 (when they finished 25th of 26, ahead of only Boston).

In 1992, they averaged 2.67 goals per game. In 1997, they averaged 2.57 goals per game. This year, they are averaging 2.35 goals per game. In sum, a team with Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture has a chance to be the worst offensive team in franchise history.

That is who they are. And unless there is some secret plan to change the atmosphere in or membership of the locker room, put rockets in the skates, or become the greatest defensive team in franchise history, that is who they are going to remain.

Saturday’s game was galling for stakeholders and fans alike because it was another lead that couldn’t be held, but doubly so because it was that rare time when the offense looked, well, like a National Hockey League offense. It was undone by a very rare Antti Niemi howler in goal, but eight shots on goal after Matt Irwin’s score 16:31 into the second period says just as much.

Great offenses with mediocre defenses are not typically Cup-worthy, but great defenses with no offenses rarely reach the playoffs at all. The Sharks, for all their attitude and aptitude, are not playing with much altitude. Their offense is ground-bound, and develops slowly when it develops at all, and there seems no easy fix at ice level for that.

This, in short, is going to require a full makeover, starting with an aggressive posture at the trade deadline from general manager Doug Wilson and an even more ambitious one in the offseason. The imbalance between will and skill will undo them all, unless this is just one of those month-and-a-half scoring slumps you usually find in . . .

. . . well, in non-playoff teams, mostly.

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