Rest for the Weary. That has to be a mantra for this abbreviated NHL campaign. As if a form of punishment meted out to players who did not hit the ice until January, games have been piled on top of each other since the commencement of this shortened season.
The results have been predictable. Most have found moments of struggle. Few have blasted out of the gate and maintained the pace. With a “three games in four nights” scenario being the norm rather than the exception, play can be inconsistent.
Only the Chicago Blackhawks have kept the pace. They have yet to lose a game in regulation and stand atop the National Hockey League.
The San Jose Sharks’ encounter with Chicago on Tuesday night was an uncustomary response from Team Teal. The Sharks held 2-0 and 3-1 leads in the first period, only to lose 5-3. In undeniably their sloppiest game of the season, two untimely turnovers in front of Antii Niemi were converted into Chicago scores. After the first period, San Jose, coming off a 2-1 loss one night earlier in Anaheim, seemed void of the energy that carried them through the first several weeks of the season.
Coach Todd McLellan commented, “We were sloppy. We were stripped of the puck a number of times, which is disappointing. We were on the power play twice and took penalties. Were we sharp enough to win? I don’t know.”
In fact, after starting 7-0-0, the Sharks have lost their last three contests. The reasons? The line of Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton has cooled. Marleau scored nine goals in his first five games. He has not scored since. He has fallen from first to outside the league’s top three. Thornton had an early lead over all players in assists. He, too, has seen a departure from the top three spots.
The red hot power play has cooled. Leading the league in the early stages, San Jose has slipped back to the No. 8 spot, finding trouble recapturing the scoring touch that led to big goals early on.
There has been spotty support from the other lines. Whereas the Sharks depended almost exclusively on the Thornton line early on, others have not picked it up to expectations in recent games.
The penalty kill has had a resurgence. It has moved up to the No. 4 position and has been especially stingy.
All of this brings us back to our initial point. So many games in so many days makes a team weary.
The Sharks have not played since Tuesday. This was a break before a final showdown today again the Phoenix Coyotes. Then, it is on the road for a series of games while HP Pavilion hosts tennis.
It would be best for the Sharks to take advantage of today’s 1 p.m tilt. Two games in Chicago is complemented by visits to Columbus, Nashville, St. Louis and Dallas. This road trip should tell us a lot about the Sharks…especially the encounters in the Windy City.
San Jose needs to find a steady scoring touch. The power play needs to resume early season form. Goaltending will need to be exceptional. Although still an NHL surprise 10 games in, it is really the last 10 games that will prove most important.
The next seven games will be especially telling. It all begins this afternoon at HP Pavilion.
Jim Adams lives in Nevada City and is a regular contributor to The Union and a broadcaster for TouchDown Productions. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.