You ever have one of those problems that you can’t quite figure out a solution to? Maybe you’ve tried everything – duct tape, WD-40, cursing, prayers – but nothing seems to work out. That’s kind of where the Sharks are at this point. This is a team that should have beaten the Kings last year in the playoffs. It’s a team that’s annually considered cup contenders (on paper at least). It’s a team that seems to have all the pieces. And it’s a team that seems to be running out of options.
After years of maintaining a team that couldn’t quite put together the final piece, GM Doug Wilson had enough blowing a 3 game lead to the Kings (and a 3 goal lead in game 7) and decided that things needed to change in San Jose. But maybe that was just a lot of smoke because things look pretty much the same. The only big addition for the Sharks was adding the NHL version of Fezzik in John Scott. He’s likeable. He’s strong. He’s slow as hell and not all that bright. Dan Boyle walked but that’s nothing huge. The only real major change made by the Sharks? Stripping Jumbo Joe of his C and deciding that no one else on the team really deserves it that much more. Good move?
So the Sharks come into the season with really no clear direction. They’re still a team with threats and pretty much locks to make the postseason. And yet they’re a team that no one really thinks is any threat to take it all the way to the cup. The Sharks have the top 6 and strength at center that makes most teams drool with envy. They may be mismanaging it slightly with Pavelski on the wing and Hertl on the third line but that also gets results. Anyone playing with Thornton as a center is going to benefit. Make it a player with the strengths of Pavelski and you’ve got as dangerous a top line as you could ask for. Hertl is still a dynamic player and the third line ought to be a match up heaven for him. The Sharks are solid on defense as well. Unfrozen Caveman Hockey Player Brent Burns has shifted back to the blue line after having a phenomenal year playing forward and his pairing with Mueller can start the game going forward as easy ever. They’re a bit of a tire fire in their own end but that’s a risk the Sharks seem willing to take. They still have Vlasic playing a Norris caliber game on the top pairing.
Things fall apart quickly once you get past the stars of the team however. The fourth line is getting destroyed but I doubt that’ll stop Burish from yapping. Their goaltending has been mediocre. With Stalock getting the start last night, we’re sure to see our old friend Antti in net again. He’s been fairly mediocre this year and against Chicago in past match ups. Antti seems to either play hot or cold against the Hawks. If he’s on, he’ll make highlight reel saves seem routine. When he’s not – it could get ugly. After starting the season strong, the Sharks have started to slip. With a front office that seems to have no faith in them, a coach who seems clueless as what to do next and aging stars, the Sharks just seem destined to be regular season warriors and a mere afterthought in the playoffs.
For Chicago – they’re in a stage where there’s far less panic but plenty of worry. They’ve continued the trend of playing phenomenal hockey for long stretches and then having everything get derailed quickly and never being able to recover. We’ve covered Q’s tendency to panic over and over and Sam does a great job of showing how it simply doesn’t get the desired results. Yet here we are again with Q playing puppet master. This morning, Hossa was skating on the third line with Smith and Kruger. If you can explain to me what that line is actually supposed to do, I’ll buy you a sundae. Saad and Hoss seemed to have been really building something lately, hopefully we see them matched up again soon. And while there’s no reason to be panicking, it’s not something you want to see continue to linger. The West is competitive and the Central even more so. The Hawks are fourth in the Central (behind the Jets of all people) despite having the third best goal differential in the league (Pitt and Tampa are the top two). There are solutions and some of them appear to be pretty damn simple. The question just is, will the Hawks make the right decisions or can they make it work with what they’re given. With Sharp still out, things could get interesting.
Lets Go Hawks