Sharks' hearts and minds will decide playoff berth

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Sharks' hearts and minds will decide playoff berth

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.

RELATED: NHL conference standings
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

NHL Gameday: Karlsson, Labanc return as fading Sharks host Rangers

NHL Gameday: Karlsson, Labanc return as fading Sharks host Rangers

Programming note – Sharks-Rangers coverage starts today at 7:00 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 42-26-7, 91 points, 2nd Pacific Division
Rangers: 46-26-4, 96 points, 4th Metropolitan Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***There are several different scenarios that would clinch a playoff spot for San Jose tonight, but the simpliset would be the Sharks beating the Rangers in regulation or overtime, or the Kings losing in regulation to the Oilers.

***The New York Rangers make their only visit of the season to SAP Center, where they will see a Sharks team that has reached its season nadir. San Jose has lost its last six games, all in regulation, and has been outscored 13-3 in a pair of blowout defeats to Dallas and Nashville.

Coach Pete DeBoer did his best to put lipstick on the pig that is the last two performances, both five-goal losses.

“A loss is a loss. Sometimes you’re better getting beat by five than one,” he said. “We lost, we’ve got to figure out a way to win. I don’t look at the numbers on the board, or the difference – a loss is a loss. A lot of times it’s better to get soundly beaten. [You don’t] fool yourself and lose a one-goal game that maybe you didn’t deserve to win.”

***DeBoer offered the following update on Logan Couture on Tuesday morning, after the center underwent a medical procedure on Monday.

“Status quo. It was dental work, and I don’t have a timeframe for when he’ll be back, but I’m confident he’s going to be back,” DeBoer said.

The Sharks are 1-0-1 in the two games without Couture this season.

***New York won the only other meeting between the Sharks and Rangers on Oct. 17 at Madison Square Garden, 7-4. They are 2-3-2 in their last seven games, including a 6-3 loss in Anaheim on Sunday.

The Rangers have the NHL’s fourth-ranked offense, at 3.13 goals-per game.

“If we play the top end teams like that that have speed, we’re able to shut them down if we manage the puck and we’re not turning it over, and keep that good gap through the neutral zone,” Paul Martin said. 

Marc-Edouard Vlasic said: “We’ve just got to get back to good breakouts and good forechecking.”

The Sharks will try to end a streak of seven straight games allowing the first goal.

***Kevin Labanc was recalled from the Barracuda. DeBoer wouldn’t confirm any lineup decisions, but it appears that Marcus Sorensen will come out. Melker Karlsson (out the last eight games with a lower body injury), Vlasic and Chris Tierney and will all play, too.

Labanc was reassigned to the AHL on Feb. 20, having not scored a goal in his previous 25 NHL games. He has 19 points (6g, 13a) in 49 games with the Sharks this season, and another 19 points (6g, 13a) in 19 games with the Barracuda.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Patrick Marleau. The forward has been one of the only Sharks players lately that’s actually doing something positive, with three goals in the last five games. Marleau will be playing center for the fifth time this season, and probably the foreseeable future, too, with Logan Couture out indefinitely. Whether he can handle the added responsibility could determine where the Sharks finish in the Pacific Division.

Rangers: Mats Zuccarello. The shifty Rangers forward has a three-game point streak, at least one point in seven of his last eight games, with nine points (3g, 6a) over that span. The 29-year-old Norway native also led the way in New York’s win over the Sharks way back on Oct. 17, with one goal and two assists.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Jannik Hansen – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Melker Karlsson – Patrick Marleau – Mikkel Boedker
Kevin Labanc – Tomas Hertl – Joel Ward
Timo Meier – Chris Tierney – Joonas Donskoi

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones (starter)
Aaron Dell

Rangers
Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – Mats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey – Mika Zibanejad – Rick Nash
Michael Grabner – Kevin Hayes – Jesper Fast
Matt Puempel – Oscar Lindberg – J.T. Miller

Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi
Marc Staal – Brady Skjei
Brendan Smith – Nick Holden

Henrik Lundqvist
Antti Raanta

INJURIES/SCRATCHES

Sharks: Logan Couture (face) and Micheal Haley (suspension) are out.

Rangers: None.

QUOTEABLE

“You’re not always going to start with the lead, and if you don’t, you’ve still got to stick with it. There’s two teams out there. It’s 50 percent chance you score the first goal, and if you don’t, you’ve got to stick with your game plan. If you get away from it, that’s when things go bad.” – Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Marleau back to the middle as Sharks deal with no Couture, Haley

Marleau back to the middle as Sharks deal with no Couture, Haley

SAN JOSE – All four of the Sharks’ lines have been in a blender for much of the season. 

Now, with Logan Couture out for at least one game and probably longer, and Micheal Haley getting tagged with a one-game suspension, the coaching staff has no choice but to mix and match the remaining forwards in time for Tuesday’s home game with the Rangers.

They’ll hope it’s the right recipe to snap out of what has been a miserable six-game losing streak in regulation, including the last two in which the Sharks have been outscored 13-3 by Dallas and Nashville.

The most notable player to be shifted is Patrick Marleau, who will apparently be centering the second line against New York. It will be just the fifth game he starts at center this season, and first since Feb. 11 in Philadelphia, when he was filling in for an ill Couture.

Marleau, of course, has played plenty of center over the years, including the second half of last season and first handful of playoff games when he was in the middle of the third line.

“I don’t think there’s been a year where I haven’t played center, so it’s just one of those things, move in and out,” Marleau said. “We’re interchangeable throughout the whole lineup, anyway.”

Marleau has been one of the few effective Sharks players lately, with three of the team’s last five goals. He has 26 goals on the season, third on the team, and is fifth on the Sharks in points with 44.

“Patty is playing great. I don’t think we could ask for more from him,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “Arguably a lot of nights this year he’s been our best forward. He’s playing hard, he’s playing strong. He’s been a real valuable piece for us. We wouldn’t be in the spot we’re in this year without him and the way he’s played this year.”

Marleau is set to skate with Melker Karlsson and Mikkel Boedker, as Karlsson is good to go after missing the last eight games with a lower body injury. The 26-year-old Swede is having a nice season with 19 points (9g, 10a) in 60 games.

The third line featured Tomas Hertl between Joel Ward and Marcus Sorensen, while Chris Tierney will center the fourth line with Timo Meier and Joonas Donskoi.

Karlsson, who confirmed he was ready to return, said: “Cooch is out, and we’ll see how long he’s going to be out, but I’ll do my best. I’m going to work hard, and hopefully can get going here.”

Marleau described Karlsson as “tenacious on the forecheck, causes a lot of turnovers. He’s hungry on that puck. He’s going to get his opportunities, and I’m sure he’ll put a few in the back of the net.”

* * *

Of course, the Sharks don’t care who scores the goals, just as long as it’s someone. It’s been a season-long issue for them to get their depth scorers to do more, and if they want any chance at reclaiming first place in the Pacific Division while Couture is out, that will be a necessity.

Among the players that will bring their scoring woes into Tuesday’s game will be Donskoi (no points 13 games), Hertl (no points in 12 games), Boedker (no points in 10 games), Ward (no points in six games), Sorensen (one assist in 10 games) and Tierney (one goal in 12 games).

Could Couture’s absence be a wake up call for those guys?

“I would hope it doesn’t take an injury to get that. That’s something we’re looking for, it’s something we’ve challenged the group to get more out of them,” DeBoer said. 

“They’re the first guys to recognize they’ve got to give us a little bit more. That’s been an ongoing process. The good news is they’ve all done it before. I feel that they all have the ability to raise their level another notch here before the playoffs. I think they have enough character that we’ll see that.”

Time is growing short, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in a little more than two weeks.

Marleau said: “When you go into playoffs, [secondary scoring] is usually what makes a difference. We need everybody contributing and guys stepping up at different times. We know that in this room, and guys are looking forward to doing that.”