The Sharks limp home after a disasterous nine game road swing, finishing just 2-6-1 and on the cusp of missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
Losing another late lead by allowing the Minnesota Wild to sneak by them 4-3 at the Xcel Energy Center, the Sharks now head home at the trade deadline with more questions than answers awaiting at home.
The time for excuses is over, the Sharks have no one to blame but themselves for this pathetic road showing. Starting the trip leading the Pacific Division by three points with four games in hand to now barely clinging to the seventh spot in the West.
Captain Joe Thornton called the team “fragile” after a 6-3 dismantling by the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the NHL’s worst teams and it’s a brutally fair assessment of the team. Joe’s done his part in trying to rally the troops, but the rest of the team or more specifically the defense and goaltending is failing to live up to their end of the bargain.
It’s not that long ago when the Sharks faithful were waving goodbye to Nabokov and his remarkable decade long run of excellence in the regular season, and gearing up for a new era of Sharks goaltending. Bolster the defense, stay with the process, add more speed and grit was the recipe we were told.
With Niittymaki and Greiss in the fold, the Sharks were ready to enter the season strong in 2010 until Doug Wilson fell in love with a shiny bauble named Antti Niemi. The Sharks were coming off a very strong campaign having lost to the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks, and had plently of flexibility to move or add pieces as they saw fit.
Instead, Doug Wilson forgot the “process” he so frequently speaks about, about “sticking to the plan” as he’s said so many times and like a child in a candy store simply had to have Niemi, damn the consequences.
Now, before anyone gets their hairs in a twist Niemi was an absolute stud last year, his run in the second half was one of the best in Sharks history. But he’s not the same guy as a year ago, and especially so during this road swing. The Sharks were close to the cap before, and Niemi’s then 2 million dollar contract didn’t completely upset the salary cap cart, but the big contract he signed before the playoffs sure didnt help.
Now has the defense done it’s part? of course not but Nemo simply isn’t making the saves he did a year ago. With the trade deadline looming, one can’t help but think the courting of Rick Nash could have been dealt with much easier without the late change of mind signing of Niemi two years ago.
What are the answers? Where is the fire and passion we saw a year ago when the Sharks stormed from 14th place to 2nd in the West? Where the team was playing defense and taking care of their own end? Where Niemi looked unsolvable on so many nights? Even the Sharks sound like they are in need of a shakeup.
“We don’t have any time to go back and think we’re going to get some good days of practice and stuff like that. It’s just not in the cards,” assistant coach Matt Shaw said. “It’s going to be a mental strength issue.”
With just 3 hours and change left to the deadline, we’ll all know shortly if there will be the big shakeup people are expecting.
Will it be Rick Nash however? I remain unconvinced that he is the be all end all to the Sharks struggles. But make no mistake, the young stud winger is on his way out of Columbus. His agent Joe Resnick said in an interview with NHL insider Bob McKenzie that they were “hopeful” a deal got done before the trade deadline, and that the list of “acceptable teams” wasn’t going to shrink no matter what.
Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson didn’t budge even after reading inbetween the lines, refusing to comment and maintaining his stance that the Blue Jackets must find the “right deal” to move Nash.
Sound more and more like Joe Pavelski to anyone??
Improve scoring? check. Improve Leadership? check. Improve defense? Eh.. not so much. While posting a 2.38 goals against in the first 52 games, the Sharks left the keys in the ignition as their opponents have run up a 3.89 goals against in the last nine games.
With just a few hours left to the trade deadline, I am hoping against hope that Doug Wilson doesn’t fall in love with another shiny bauble again.