Sharks taking it to the wire

Sharks taking it to the wire
March 27, 2012, 4:17 pm
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The Sharks have won three consecutive games. They are back in third place, looking to host an opening round series against Chicago rather than hosting celebrity golf tournaments and duck blind bacchanals. Everything for them is swell.

And Todd McLellans eyes still look like Ryane Clowes forehead.

There is something invigorating about a playoff chase. The senses are heightened, every minute is exhausted on the task at hand, scoreboard-watching takes on an inordinate importance. And thats just for fans, whose usual exertions top out at dodging the check.

But McLellan can enjoy none of this because he has no expectations about Anaheim on Wednesday. He is safe tonight because none of the other members of the Gang of Six play, but tomorrow its back to the horrifying grind of coaching a team that scares the hell out of him.
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San Joses inconsistency has been a thing of exquisite beauty. They have turned the notion of playing to form into a minute-by-minute experience, and momentum into a hilarious joke. They are anything but trustworthy.

We know this because the Sharks got a long and sustained standing ovation for beating the bejeezus out of Colorado Monday night, a bar so low by recent historical standards that it should never have come to that at all. Grubbing for points is not something the Sharks are used to. Moreover, having to exert dominance on a team that is still in the race in name only because they have so few games left to get the lover they have always taken for granted is quite the eye-opener.

San Jose won Monday the way it won Saturday against Phoenix . . . by grinding every shift and letting the skill emerge out of the run of play rather than singular feats of brilliance. They are at their best when the glamorous stuff comes naturally and by the hard work of winning the defensive and neutral zones first, and they are their worst when trying to do it front to back.

But we knew that in February, when they couldnt do it hardly at all, and we knew it in December, and we knew it last summer when they traded Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi for Brent Burns and Marty Havlat. They were trading style for substance, only they spent much of this season disavowing substance because they were still addicted to style.

And McLellan turned several shades of blue trying to convince them otherwise, to the point where he is now essentially out of words. All he can do is change lines, run what few practices there are, and show them the standings. He said as much Saturday when he said they all scoreboard-watch now, an admission most coaches would never allow outside the dressing room.

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He said it for a purpose, to get them to understand the inspiration of humiliation on their own, because saying, Youd rather be 10th than 3rd? Then keep doing what youre doing, every day gets monotonous, and players hate monotony.

So three wins in a row and third place overall has cured them? Hah! You havent been paying attention. They play Anaheim Wednesday, a team that is their doppelganger in so many ways, separated only by the Ducks miserable start. Then in Phoenix Thursday, and then nine days after that they are done. The Gang of Six is now closer to four, as Colorado has run out of games, and Calgary still has three teams to pass.

The assumption was that 96 points would be needed for a playoff spot, but that has been lowered to 94, a number that would have eliminated a team in four of the last six seasons. San Jose needs to split its final 12 available points to manage that, and even then the Sharks would be cutting the pastrami a bit fine.

But projecting what they will do even now is a fools game. There are no more projections, or even educated guesses. It is a night-to-night proposition, with no guarantee or signpost that a night will be good or bad until it is over. Monday night was one of their best performances in weeks, and yet they lost Logan Couture for the final 12 minutes to scare people halfway to hells waiting room.

So no wonder McLellan looks awful, and no wonder Clowes forehead knows it isnt the most gnarled object in the room.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com