Feb. 1, 2011RATTO ARCHIVESHARKS PAGE SHARKS VIDEORay RattoCSNBayArea.com
There are so many easy ways to explain San Joses 5-3mortician-cheating victory over Phoenix Tuesday night that one can takecomfort only in the fact that all of them are wrong.
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It wasnt Alex Stalocks first game, replacing Antti Niemi after 30minutes and change and saving all nine shots he faced, that did it. Itwasnt Joe Pavelskis power play goal with eight seconds left in thesecond period that did it. It wasnt the booing from a properly annoyedcrowd that did it. It wasnt their sudden reacquaintance with the hardwork required to free them from the morass in the middle of the WesternConference. At best, it was a little bit of all of it, but there was nodominant factor.Frankly, theres no real way to explain it satisfactorily. They wereeye-searingly horrible for 39 straight minutes, falling behind 3-0 andseeming to be unbothered by their predicament, and then they were greatfor 21, smothering the Coyotes and scoring five times a mixed-messageperformance about light-switch hockey that could just as easily destroythem as inspire them.But lets just say that some Sharks felt the lash of their compliantticket base and decided that shame can be a powerful motivator.I think maybe part of (the comeback) was the second period, when wecould hear our fans booing us, said Pavelski, who scored his secondand third goals since November. That wasnt fun to hear that,especially in our building. We do take pride in playing here, and wedont really appreciate it.But . . .Oh, we definitely deserved it for the way we were playing.Logically, this would mean that fan-base hatred is they key to all goodthings Shark-related except that they now go on a seven-game roadtrip and wont get to experience that tough love that Pavelskisuggested was the key to victory.They managed to win despite having only 10 forwards (Logan Couture gothit with a flu bug during warmups) and missing Dany Heatley for severalshifts after a turnover. They managed to win despite giving up 27 shotsin 37 minutes and forcing head coach Todd McLellan to replace thelargely blameless Niemi with the rookie Stalock. They managed to winbecause for 21 minutes they acted as though they were an elite teamagain.
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Those moments, though, come few and far between, and as a thoroughlydisgusted McLellan said, We cant do that 31 more times and expect agood end.By now, he has done everything he (or any other coach) can do hesbenched players, hes changed lines, hes kissed them and kicked themand skated them and nurtured them. Theres nothing left to do, and thebig face-slapping trade that would have to involve one of the Big Four(Marleau, Heatley, Joe Thornton or Dan Boyle) isnt going tohappen because they all have no-move deals.In short, the deadline cant save them, and some new coaching stratagemcant save them. Only they can save themselves, and letting the homefolks see how bad they can be is far worse than demonstrating how goodthey can be is beneficial.They are tied for seventh with Chicago, and three points behindfourth-place Nashville. They are also two points ahead of 11th placeCalgary. And this is where they will reside the rest of the season, inthe enormous clot in the middle of the Western Conference, so far fromVancouver and Detroit that they may as well be Vladivostok andNouakchott.
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Unless, of course, they have that player-generated epiphany that theyalways seem to say theyve had after a big win. They keep playing asthough they like the heat of the third rail, but they also have a lotof charred edges from playing such a cavalier style.In the meantime, they just stole two points they didnt fully earnuntil it was nearly too late, and the best thing for them is that theydont have enough time to absorb the lessons of the first 39 minutes orthe final 21. They play in Anaheim Wednesday, a team almost exactlylike them except in one important way -- the Ducks have already begunthe rebuild to younger and faster that the Sharks may have to undergothis coming summer.They are a playoff team, kind of. They are a team playing for a highdraft choice, almost. They dont know and neither does anyone else.But if Sharks fans want to contribute to the cause in a meaningful way,a loud and healthy festival of boos at the right time seems to workwonders. At least it did Tuesday. God only knows what if anything willwork when they come back against the Washington Ovechkini in twoweeks.What's on your mind? Email Ray and let him know. He may use it in his Mailbag.