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.

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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

In return to San Jose, McLellan emerges victorious, ends Sharks' season

In return to San Jose, McLellan emerges victorious, ends Sharks' season

SAN JOSE – To borrow a phrase from Chuck Woolery, Todd McLellan was back in two and two.

Saturday’s Game 6 between the Sharks and Oilers marked exactly two years and two days since the Sharks-McLellan love connection was broken up, as the coach and his staff were all essentially fired on April 20, 2015. But McLellan and assistants Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft quickly resurfaced with the Oilers a few weeks later, and now they’re moving on to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the expense of their former employer.

At what was his home for seven seasons, McLellan took the press conference podium at SAP Center as the victorious visiting coach after Edmonton’s 3-1 win clinched the series in six games. Asked what the moment meant to him, McLellan preferred not to focus on himself or his staff.

“It’s not about Todd, it’s not about Jay or Jimmy. It’s about the Oilers and the group of players there that are growing up in front of us,” McLellan said.

“We’re part of this team now. I obviously have a soft spot for a lot of the players that are here in San Jose. They gave us a hell of a series. They helped us grow up by pushing us, and we’re lucky to get through. That’s an important thing for us.”

Amazingly, the Oilers managed to prevail with just one even strength point from Connor McDavid, who led the league in scoring in the regular season. That point came with less than a second remaining on the clock on Sunday when McDavid converted on an empty net.

The focus from the outside, among many of the Edmonton and San Jose media, was that the Sharks were doing an admirable job of defending the 20-year-old, who had 30 goals and 100 points in the regular season. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, in particular, were keeping McDavid frustrated.

While that may be the case, McLellan said after Game 6 that he had no problem with the McDavid vs. Vlasic showdown. In his view, the Oilers could win the series elsewhere.

“There was a lot of talk in this series about us trying to get Connor away from Vlasic and Braun. Obviously we don’t want to talk about it during the series, but we had an eye on [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins] against [Joe Thornton’s] line, especially since they put them together. That was a match we were looking for.

“You can’t get everything. When you’re a coach, the media experts find something and they keep going to it. But coaches have different plans sometimes. Peter [DeBoer] had his plan, we had ours. Ours wasn’t about getting Connor away from Vlasic and Braun, ours was getting [Nugent-Hopkins] on the ice against [Joe] Pavelski and Jumbo and Patty Marleau. For the most part, it worked in our favor.”

It worked, because as the stars on both teams were essentially neutralized, the Oilers’ depth players contributed just a little bit more than the Sharks group did and at more opportune times.

Zack Kassian had a pair of game-winning goals in games two and three; David Desharnais was the Game 5 hero with a game-tying assist and game-winning goal; and Anton Slepyshev posted the game-winner with a breakaway in Game 6. Not exactly big names.

DeBoer was particularly disappointed with Game 3, a 1-0 loss on Kassian’s third period goal; and Game 5, in which the Sharks had a 3-1 lead that they couldn’t protect. That the Sharks only got one power play goal in 18 chances not counting the Game 4 blowout was also one of the reasons for their downfall.

“If you had told me before the series we would have held McDavid in check, we would have won the special teams battle on paper, I probably would have felt pretty good about our chances,” DeBoer said.

Instead, McLellan will take his up-and-coming team to the next round, where it will face off with the Anaheim Ducks.

“For our team, we’re watching them grow up right in front of us, which is a great thing,” he said.

 

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

SAN JOSE – The clock said there was seven minutes and 48 seconds remaining in the third period. It was frozen there for a bit after Patrick Marleau’s goal brought the Sharks back to within a single score of Edmonton.

Filled to capacity, the Shark Tank came to life, ravenous for the equalizer. The next several minutes offered a reminder of the team’s thrilling 2016 playoff run, when the Sharks finished just two wins away from a championship while taking their fans along for a ride they had never been on in a quarter-century.

But those seven minutes and 48 seconds quickly wound down, leaving the Sharks worlds away from what they did just a year ago. The Oilers held on for a 3-1 win, ending the Sharks’ season in a first round series that lasted six games.

Other than Game 4, a Sharks blowout victory, all the games were competitive.

“There were just a couple key moments in the series,” Joe Pavelski said.

In Game 6, the key moments that won the game for Edmonton came early in the second period. Justin Braun’s point shot was blocked leading to Leon Draisaitl’s goal to open the scoring, and Chris Tierney’s pass to Paul Martin at the point was just off the mark, allowing Anton Slepyshev to glide ahead untouched for another goal. The scores both came within the first two minutes of the middle frame, and were just 56 seconds apart.

That was probably poetic justice in that the Oilers were the much more aggressive and hungry team in the first period, they just weren't rewarded on the scoreboard.

Joe Thornton agreed with a suggestion that the Sharks were “a little bit sloppy” early, “but we got better. I thought we played a great second period and pushed in the third period. Just not enough time left on the clock.”

The Sharks did seem to get their game going just after Slepyshev’s score, but couldn’t solve Cam Talbot more than once. Pavelski nearly tied it with 3:45 to go, but his backhander from down low glanced off of both the crossbar and the post.

Key moments.

“It felt good coming off the stick, it really did,” Pavelski said of his chance. “It was there.”

Connor McDavid’s empty net goal with less than a second on the clock capped the scoring, sending the Oilers and former Sharks coach Todd McLellan on to the second round. 

Other than Game 4, which they dominated 7-0, the Sharks managed just seven goals in the other five games. Brent Burns failed to record a point in five of the six games, while Pavelski had just a single assist outside of Game 4.

The depth scorers also failed to come through, no surprise after the Sharks got little from them for much of the season.

“They defended well, Talbot played well. They were all close games,” Pete DeBoer said. “You’ve got to find a way to win 1-0, 2-1 in the playoffs. It’s not realistic you’re going to get three or four every night. They found a way to win more of the close games than we did.”

Burns said: “Series was pretty tight. I think it’s like Pavs said, it’s just little moments here and there. So much is luck, just puck luck, creating that luck. It’s a tight series, back and forth.”

The Sharks face an uncertain offseason, as there is little reason to believe their current roster, as constructed, will be able to compete with an Oilers team that has not only proven to be better now but is only going to improve. Whether Thornton and Marleau return remains an uncertainty, too.

“This is a big summer. We’ve got some guys that are up, and the expansion draft and whatnot,” Logan Couture said. 

“Every year I’ve been in this league, the team has never been the same the next year. There’s always been changes. Unfortunately, that’s the way that this league works. We’ll see what happens this summer, and come back hungrier next year.”

In the meantime, the Oilers will continue their push for a Stanley Cup while San Jose’s visit to the final round last year will only become more and more of a distant memory.