Sharks' hearts and minds will decide playoff berth

Sharks' hearts and minds will decide playoff berth
March 21, 2012, 9:11 pm
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There is no compelling mathematical argument to be made for the Sharks missing the playoffs. Theyre two back with nine to play, and have games in hand two more than Colorado, one more than Phoenix.

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But thats the worst possible thing to tell these mopes. That they have breathing room. Or that they just played well. Or that things are looking up.They only realize the true meaning of desperation and how to handle it when they have no place to go but out. They dont gear up until theyre pointed up a steep hill and the car stalls. They dont power up until the battery looks like its dead.Or maybe theyre feeling so desperate than putting the old police chokehold on their sticks trying so hard that they forget that effort without purpose is just aerobics. They run around like that vial of fire ants they were smuggling in their shorts has just broken and the wildlife is savaging their delicates.Either way, and only they know as individuals whether they care too little or dont care enough, the point is that they stink absolutely stink at this scrambling for a playoff thing.There is no other useful explanation for their last month and a half, where they rise up for teams they have always regarded as their equals but lay down against their traditional inferiors. They fancy themselves an elite team, and they emit results that make them look like the Winnipeg Jets.Of their eight wins since Feb. 1, six have come against playoff teams, and the goal differential in those wins (over Dallas, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, Nashville and Detroit) is 21-11.But of their 17 losses over that time, nine have come against non-playoff teams, and by that we mean teams that have no or almost no hope of making it. And the goal differential in those games (under Calgary, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Columbus, Minnesota, Buffalo, Edmonton, Calgary again and Anaheim) is 23-35.Combined, they are 6-8 against good teams, which isnt great. But they are 2-9 against bad ones. Let that marinate in your heads for a minute.Okay. Now throw up.Finished? Good. Times up.That is a screeching advertisement for short attention span. Or a basic misunderstanding of how to play desperate but smart hockey.If you had gotten properly piefaced on February 1 and figured out what games the Sharks should have won or lost by going through their schedule, you would have come up with a conservative estimate of 16-9. That would have put them at about 96 points now, give or take the odd overtime result, and that would have put them not tenth, but second, a stride ahead of Vancouver and within reach of St. Louis.In short, this isnt about math at all, but a measure of the hearts and minds within the room. The Sharks have either massively underachieved as players, or they dont know how not to be front-runners.The easy and stupid response is to blame head coach Todd McLellan for not reaching them, but this is a veteran team with seven years of regular season success that should not require the coach to remind them not to lay down to Anaheim at home.The second easy response is to accuse general manager Doug Wilson of not maximizing his trade skills, but Brent Burns has been better for San Jose than Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi have been for Minnesota, and Martin Havlat tripping over the dasher and losing 39 games is not really managements fault.Well give you Jamie McGinn for the moment, as he has considerably outperformed both Daniel Winnik and T.J. Galiardi, but if Colorado doesnt make the playoffs, how much damage was done? And do you really think that McGinn could have snapped the rest of the roster to attention against Calgary or Columbus or Buffalo?No, this is not on the coach, and the general manager hasnt failed either. There are too many years of good results to determine that they have become stupid.This is about the players taking too long to learn how not to be front-runners, about relying on their talent to save them when their attention span and devotion to detail are more important.These results speak volumes about their inability to learn a new skill playing with angry dogs snapping at their hinders and about their refusal to accept their new paradigm as an ordinary team producing sub-ordinary results.In short, they need to take the games in hand and the wins over Nashville and Detroit and Philly and the history and shove them all forcefully in an uncomfortable place. The players as a group and individually must look at these results, throw up themselves, and then play as though they were merely a 45-day aberration rather than the condemnation they really are.Unless they are actually worse than everyone thinks they are, and that the four-year window they expected is closing after two. And let that marinate with you, too.Ray Ratto is a columnist forCSNBayArea.com