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Sharks can right ship starting in Edmonton tonight

Monday, 03.12.2012 / 1:33 PM / NHL Insider

By Staff

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Sharks can right ship starting in Edmonton tonight
The San Jose Sharks currently find themselves in a very surprising place for this point of the season: Outside the postseason field.
First, the good news for the San Jose Sharks: With 15 games left to play in the regular season, they hold at least two games in hand on each of the five teams immediately ahead of them in the Western Conference standings. And although they enter Monday's action sitting 11th, they could find themselves back in the top eight by night's end with a win in Edmonton and a Colorado loss to Anaheim.

However, the Sharks have plenty of work ahead of them as they finish a road trip with a pair of stops in Alberta, moving on after playing the Oilers to face one of their rivals for the final West playoff berths in the Flames on Tuesday. San Jose has posted a 2-8-3 record since Feb. 16 to not only relinquish the Pacific Division lead but plummet out of the conference's top eight altogether.

"Our performance is not where we want it to be and there's only one thing to do about it," General Manager Doug Wilson said Sunday in the San Jose Mercury News. "Go change that tomorrow."


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Fortunately for the Sharks, there are still several weeks of tomorrows left with which to salvage a season that began with great promise but is now threatening to slip away. Wilson tweaked his roster during the offseason to add playmaker Martin Havlat and talented offensive defenseman Brent Burns from Minnesota, and after a slow start in October, the team began to hit its stride. The Sharks led the Pacific with 68 points, six clear of the ninth seed, when they traveled to face Tampa Bay. They lost 6-5 in overtime, and very little has gone right since.

The Sharks finished up a nine-game road trip by losing six of seven. Adding injury to insult, coach Todd McLellan suffered a concussion on an errant stick to the head in the last game against the Wild and didn't return behind the bench until the finale of the ensuing four-game homestand. The Sharks won the opener at HP Pavilion, 1-0, but managed just three more goals in losing the remaining games. They extended their overall skid to five by dropping the first two games of their current road swing at Dallas and Phoenix, division rivals who have passed them in the standings.

"It seems to be a similar pattern here," defenseman Dan Boyle said after the Sharks were blanked by the Coyotes, the fourth time in six games they've been held to one goal or fewer. "We had several grade-A chances, but didn't put the puck away."

In the last five games, leading scorer Joe Thornton has been held to 3 assists -- all in last Thursday's loss to Dallas. Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski scored goals that night, but they were Marleau's only point in his last five and Pavelski's only point in his last seven. Similarly, Logan Couture has just a solitary assist in his last six games.

"It builds up a little bit when it lingers on," Ryan Clowe, who has 2 goals in the last 11 games said of the losing streak in the Mercury News. "You really want tonight to be the night to get the two points and it doesn't happen and it leaves us scratching our head."

As a result, the Sharks are staring down adversity several months earlier than they're accustomed. For a franchise that has won four consecutive Pacific titles and eclipsed 100 points in five consecutive seasons and six of the last seven, the biggest concern is usually how to get over the playoff hump that has plagued the franchise since it became a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. This season, it's simply figuring out a way to get in.

San Jose made a couple of deadline moves, picking up veteran center Dominic Moore from Tampa Bay and left wings TJ Galiardi and Daniel Winnik from Colorado, but that hasn't provided the necessary spark. Goalie Antti Niemi hasn't been awful, but he hasn't been able to turn in the stand-on-his-head type performance the Sharks need while their offense is struggling.

If you're an optimist, you'll note despite all these difficulties, the Sharks are only six points behind the Stars for the Pacific lead -- with a couple of games in hand. And after they finish off this Western Canadian swing, they'll play eight of their final 13 games on home ice.

Still, as they get set to take the ice in Edmonton on Monday night, the only certainty for the Sharks is the uncertain future they face over the regular season's final weeks.

"But if you look around the League, there's 13 or 14 other teams within a 10-point range right now," Marleau said in the Mercury News. "So it's not like we're the only team that goes through this. There has to be urgency in our game, but we know what we can accomplish. Now we just have to do it."
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