“Mixed emotions.” That’s how head coach Todd McLellan sized up Sunday night’s stunning overtime loss in Colorado.
As the Sharks have now reached the halfway point of the NHL season, mixed emotions also sums up the first 24 games. For the first 11 days and seven games, the Sharks could do no wrong. They were the hottest things on ice and the top line of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski was running roughshod over the top of the scoring leaderboard.
But something changed on Groundhog Day in a 2-1 shootout loss to Nashville. The offense sputtered and after that some nights dried up completely. After scoring no fewer than four goals in each of the first five games, the Sharks failed to score that many in any of the subsequent 19 games, a streak that is still intact.
What happened? Where did the goals go? Did the team’s elite scorers forget how to put the puck in the net? What about the offense from Lines 2, 3 and 4? What about scoring from the blueline? These are all questions yet to be answered but certainly must be at the top of McLellan’s list.
And then there’s the good. After finishing one spot from the bottom on the penalty kill last year, the Sharks are third right now. It’s a strength that has kept them in many games the past six weeks.
The goaltending has been great to excellent. The Sharks are 5th in goals against per game. Solid goaltending, strong team defense and a good penalty kill are the foundation for any team hoping for postseason success, and the Sharks appear to have those pillars in place.
But top teams also have to be able to strike on the power play and the Sharks have faltered in that department for the most part. Five games in, the power play had 12 goals and was clicking at almost 39%.
Since then the Sharks are 6 for 78 with the man advantage. That’s just below 8%. It’s hard to fathom: same players in the same system, but achieving drastically different results.
So yes, emotions are mixed halfway through this most unusual of seasons. But the good news is that it’s halfway. The second act begins Tuesday in St. Louis.
I’m Randy Hahn