What’s wrong with the San Jose Sharks?

Roundtable: What’s wrong with the San Jose Sharks? Has the window closed for Stanley Cup hopes? | Puck Daddy – Yahoo! Sports:

But again: The San Jose Sharks are chasing the No. 8 seed. The winner of four consecutive Pacific Division titles is swimming upstream to make the playoff cut this season, one year removed from a Western Conference Finals appearance — and after an offseason that saw GM Doug Wilson load up for what looked like a Stanley Cup run. What the hell happened? Who do we blame? And even if they make the playoffs, can they still challenge for the Cup? We asked a few of the best Sharks bloggers their thoughts on the matter.

Hey, the Sharks beat Edmonton. Life’s all better now, right?

Count me as not so sure. But I thought the work ethic and the attention to detail tonight was pretty good. Rom Renney ripped the Oilers after the game, but to be honest, I thought it was more about them running up against the theoretical sharks and not the recent sharks than anything his team didn’t do. The bigger question is whether the theoretical sharks are going to show up for more than 50 minutes a game every third game (or not).

So what’s wrong with the Sharks? Good question. If I really knew the answer, I’d be doing something other than writing blogs about it.

But here’s my take.

First,  injuries have hurt this team more than expected. There have been enough, and key enough, that this team’s never gotten the lineup set and everyone on the same page. This is especially true on defense. Boyle playing through a broken foot early and unable to play his game well impacted this, too.

Some of the off-season moves haven’t worked out as expected. While I won’t say it was as simple as “the sharks let Ian White go and brought in Colin White” — it’s never that simple — the face is that Ian White’s doing pretty well in Detroit, and Colin White has been, well, a disappointment. Has not lived up to expectations, definitely.

And early on, when the Sharks were doing pretty well, Niemi wasn’t. Until the last couple of weeks, Niemi has struggled with timely saves. I think this got into the heads of the players a bit, and they started expecting bad things to happen; bad bounce, soft goal, bad penalty. And when they did, they collapsed and lost focus. Too many games this year where a missed play or a goal turned into two or three goals in really short order before the team got back into its groove. Lose focus, get buried.

Now, it looks like Niemi is getting back into the groove, but the team is still playing fragile. A mistake turns into not one goal, but two.

This can be a nasty thing to fix when it gets going; many times players don’t even notice it, but… you lose games because of mistakes, or soft goals. You start to expect it. That makes it a bit harder to convince yourself to go down and block that shot, so you flamingo it. Or instead of standing in front of the goalie screening him, where your kidneys get constantly crosschecked by that defenseman, you stand a foot to the side, where you’re kinda sorta screening him and the defenseman lets you, because you’re not really hurting anything.

Oh, wait. that’s “clearing the crease”, it’s not cross-checking. Because if it was cross-checking, the referees would call it. My bad.

But you get my point. When you start expecting a bad thing to happen, it can get into your head that you might as well not get that bruise blocking this shot, or go into the pain areas scrumming for a screen, or maybe you let up just enough chasing down to kill that icing. Little things, not even conscious decisions. And in this league, where everyone is so evenly matched and the margin of victory so slim, those little things matter a lot. And it is those little things that tend to manufacture good luck and good bounces, so if the players aren’t doing it, the bounces tend to go against them — and that can reinforce it.

The only way out of this is to commit yourself as a player not to NOT do the little things. To take those cross-checks, to block those shots, to gut it out. And relearn the work habits and details you as a player thought you were doing, but really weren’t.

What I liked about the Edmonton game was that the Sharks were doing those little things well, consistently.

So now we see if that’s a trend, or whether it fades again. We’ll see. But the Sharks are still on the outside looking in. and it won’t get any easier…