With a respectable 3-2-1 record since getting back from the Olympics, you can fault most people for assuming that everything is fine at the Shark Tank. However, Fear the Fin’s Mr. Plank is not one of those people; he points out that the Sharks are clearly struggling (particularly early in games) and wonders how much longer the team can mask such blemishes.
I doubt I need to reiterate how important scoring first is to winning hockey games, but here’s some context– San Jose has a 77.4% winning percentage when scoring first this season, compared to a 51.4% winning percentage when giving up the first goal. Coincidentally, the Sharks are actually 2nd in the league in terms of being able to come back when trailing initially– silver lining again, but obviously not a situation they wish to find themselves in on the majority of nights.
… Overall, the Sharks have spent 42.06% of their game time tied, 42.35% down by at least a goal, and 15.59% with the lead.
They have three first period goals, two second period goals, and an astounding fifteen tallies in the third period.
Not to iodize old – yet still raw – wounds, but Sharks fans can’t be blamed for constantly waiting for the next shoe to drop.
In last year’s playoffs, they received what I felt was a really rough draw (would you rather play a loaded Anaheim Ducks team or two overachieving happy-to-be-there bunches in St. Louis or Columbus?) and bowed out in the first round. They’re once again fighting for the Presidents’ Trophy and are almost guaranteed to win their third consecutive Pacific Division title (not to mention their fourth 100 point finish in a row), but Sharks fans could care less. All they want is for the team to make the token “choking” jokes go away.
On some level, I wonder if the Sharks are simply bored. Yet again, the team ran away with what is actually a very tough division. Once more, they find themselves with nothing but first place in the West to fight for. As much as we like to think that effort, skill and coaching matter the most, there’s little question that hockey is also a game of bounces and (at least somewhat) of luck. Being the juggernaut that “cannot deliver when it matters the most” must be incredibly taxing.
Personally, I think the Sharks are as good a bet as any. Evgeni Nabokov can be overrated at times, but I’d still take him over Chicago’s goalies. If Marc-Edouard Vlasic can be healthy and rust-free by playoff time, they have a sturdy defense (even if it’s less dominant than years past). Dany Heatley can also take some of the pressure away from eternal scapegoats Joe Thornton and awkward Patrick Marleau.
Like any team, the Sharks have their issues but they’re still my pick to hoist the Cup (even if this very sentence does nothing to endear me to Sharks fans fearing a jinx, along with many people who prefer to lean on played-out punchlines).