Monday, April 19, 2010

OMG! WTF! Oh no! Not again, San Jose!

I’ve seen a lot of hockey games. A lot more than is probably healthy; and I’ve never seen a game end like this:

For those of you who might not be able to see the video, that is Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle- presumably trying to wrap the puck back around the boards- backhanded the puck past Evgeni Nabokov who probably wasn’t expecting a puck on net which explains why he wasn’t tight to the post. There was some suggestion that the Avs’ Ryan O’Reilly caused a deflection, but from my vantage point it went clean in. In any case, it’s a monumental error by Boyle and yet another bad bounce for the Sharks, who lost Game 1 on a similar play.

If this isn’t proof that the San Jose Sharks are cursed, I don’t know what is. Usually, after a game you can analyze it and there’s a reason why Team A lost even after dominating so thoroughly- they didn’t create traffic, their passing plays were too simplistic, the shots they put on net weren’t too difficult, etc.- but watching Game 3, there’s nothing I can say about the Sharks that caused them to lose (outside of Colorado Avalanche goaltender Craig Anderson, who literally stood on his head in stopping 51 shots for the shutout, 12 shy of the playoff record 63 by Patrick Roy back in 1996). San Jose created traffic in front of the net, they shot from all kinds of angles, they created plays that bemused the Avalanche defenders, won all the puck battles, ran clinics at keeping the puck in the Avalanche zone and created a plethora of difficult saves; and they don’t even win the game.

It’s tough not to feel for the Sharks at this point. It seems like every April at this time we’re talking about yet another San Jose Sharks meltdown in the playoffs, and, though this series is far from over, there’s nothing that suggests the Sharks are capable of turning things around. The Avalanche have been, well, an avalanche, utilizing their superior foot-speed to create pressure and not allow the Sharks to move into their plays as they had all season long. San Jose did look like they figured out a way to defeat Colorado in using their superior size as well as keeping the Avs in front of them, but they can’t seem to find an answer for Anderson and you have to wonder if a team as fragile as the Sharks are can overcome a confidence-sucker like Boyle’s own goal. Plus, you have to think the Avalanche will be smarter with the puck for Game 4 than they were tonight, because the turnovers and the penalties forced Anderson to make 51 saves in the first place.

What’s becoming clear is that it just may be time to end the Joe Thornton Show in San Jose. Dig a little deeper in this series and you’ll see that the Sharks’ supposed on-ice leader hasn’t nearly made the impact in this series as was hoped. Neither has his partner in crime, Patrick Marleau, who’s been shuttled around the lines to little effect. It leads me to believe that, should the Sharks actually lose the series, Thornton- at the very least- should be gone and replaced with a proper leader. A loss would also spell the end for Nabokov, an unrestricted free agent, though I think he’s not really to blame for the Sharks’ ills in this post-season. Thornton showed while with Team Canada that he can be a productive player when he’s not asked to be the leader of the team so logic dictates that he should move to a team where he doesn’t have to be the team leader. The problem is, I’m not sure which team he would best fit in, because there’s very few players who are better than he is. The only scenario I can think of is the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he can take the place of Evgeni Malkin, a Conn Smythe winner and proven leader (in order to do the deal I picture the Sharks including Logan Couture, their top prospect, due to Thornton’s seven year age gap with Malkin). It sounds plausible on paper, but it’s iffy at best if Pittsburgh would go for it- after all, having Malkin and Sidney Crosby long term is the more favourable proposition, and the Penguins need faster bodies, not slower ones. Still, Thornton would be able to fit behind Crosby in Pittsburgh’s pecking order and the Sharks finally get themselves a leader. I wrote once before that the Thornton trade may have been a mistake, and now it’s looking more and more like that is the case.

Hopefully, like I said last year, the Sharks can pull themselves out of this mess because their fanbase- which, from day one has been one of the NHL’s best success stories and overwhelmingly the only real “Southern” franchise to be a success- deserves a proven winner and not a team that teases with its potential. However, episodes like today and last season do little to quell those fears and the call for major changes is only going to get louder and louder. San Jose has the chance to make all those murmurs moot, but they’ve got to take this chance and prove the Avalanche won’t upset them like the Anaheim Ducks did last year or the Dallas Stars did two years ago. The puck is in their end- it’s up to them to make good use of it.



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