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Is what you see really what you get?
Players need to return to their comfort zones
1/31/10 - By Steve Flores -

Well we have arrived at the theoretical midpoint of the 2010-2011 NHL Season and the San Jose Sharks are sitting in a tie for the final playoff position in the Western Conference. They are, in fact, tied at six games over .500 with Chicago, Minnesota and Colorado and only one win better than Los Angeles. Numbers determine the post-season qualifiers and the Sharks may well get into the Stanley Cup party, but will it really matter?

Let's face it folks the Sharks have been mediocre at best all season long. They have beaten some of the leagues better teams (I.E. Detroit and Philadelphia) but they have also lost to the likes of New Jersey, Edmonton and the New York Islanders - and lost badly.

The team seems to have very little heart, as full 60-minute efforts have been fewer and farther between than in recent seasons past.

Ryane Clowe, one of the few nightly mercenaries on this team, even spoke out in harsh terms in regards to the less than yeoman-like efforts of some of his teammates after a recent loss.

Local media, fans and coaches and team management have all chimed in on attempts to explain the less than stellar play of the team.

The roster is primarily the same as last season with the exception of Evgeni Nabokov and Rob Blake. Although the goaltending has not been stellar it has not been atrocious either. Antero Nittymaki played very well out of the gate and then was pulled by Head Coach Todd McLellan in what has appeared to be a two-fold move. The Sharks seemed to find it very important to instill more confidence in Antti Niemi - so much so that he has played considerably more than Nittymaki despite Nittymaki's better start. Niemi, had early troubles with rebound control and thus a wane in mental strength. Nittymaki is currently nursing an injury yet Niemi has been the primary goaltender for well over a month now.

Analysis of the team's issues always comes back to their defensive core. Dan Boyle is an All-Star. Doug Murray is a physical force and can alter the way a team plays against the Sharks - especially in front of the goal keeper. Marc-Eduouard Vlasic is an NHL caliber player and Jason Demers is still young. I am not going to sit here and rip Kent Huskins or Nicolas Wallin. I believe that both men play hard. The fact of the matter is that this part of the Sharks roster does not hold up to many other NHL franchises. Only Boyle is adept at moving the puck and the team's speed on the blue line is no longer elite.

The Sharks top players do not have the numbers that the fans and the players themselves are used to seeing. Word is that Joe Thornton has been asked, once again, to alter his game to suit the needs of the team. He tries to play more in front of the net and he is more active defensively. On paper I guess that seems to be the very 'team like' thing to do. But is it really helping the team? The team's results would say otherwise.

Patrick Marleau has a decent number of goals this year and does have spurts of hustle but he too often seems lost and his turnovers have been many in the early going.

Dany Heatley is a guy that finds ways to put garbage into the back of the net. He is also doing a lot of banging on defense this year. But his goal totals are down. He is paid to score. If he's not scoring then the part of the game that makes him special isn't happening. If it isn't happening then the Sharks are playing without a lot of their teeth.

Again, I am just speculating but the lack of allowing Thornton to roam and control and concentrate on offense seems to be the problem with the Big Three.

The team lack of heart goes deeper and I have no answer for a seeming lack of desire. The one thing I know is that they have been made to look very poor on many nights by many teams - both good and bad alike. This is undisputable.

GM Doug Wilson has made a couple moves in an attempt to add some third line depth for the\ team and they did win 4 of their last 5 prior to the All-Star break.

They also turned in one of, if not their best performance of the season with a win over Vancouver on January 20th in British Columbia. The win was well earned and they were the better team that night.

In any case the team has seen solid play from rookie Logan Couture. They have had a few injuries here and there but should be relatively healthy as the final 32 games get under way.

The Sharks have been an enigma for years to their fans and the media alike. This current group is no different. Well, ok they are different in the fact that they usually don't frustrate everyone until the post season.

This year they have been perplexing from day one and may not even reach the playoffs.

I imagine that if they do qualify for the post season that they may well surprise. I say this because they are going to have to rise to a level that they haven't come close to approaching in their first 50 games. If they can raise their game to a much higher level down the stretch and actually qualify then I would assume that they would be real contenders for more than just qualifying.

The Sharks are used to their reputation as underachievers let's just hope that they find a way to reverse this trend and catch lightning in a bottle so that they have a post-season that has more success than they have had in the regular season. There are a lot of ifs, buts and maybes to contend with between now and then however.



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