For the San Jose Sharks, the 2013 abbreviated campaign has been marked by early moments of promising highs followed by question marks, challenges and hopes of a late-season surge that will parlay itself into a healthy Stanley Cup playoff run.
However, entering this afternoon, San Jose is only two games short of the halfway point in the season. The Sharks sit with 26 points, good enough to still be in the playoff hunt. In their Pacific Division, the Anaheim Ducks have been on such a tear that they have expanded to a nine-point advantage over San Jose.
After a 7-0-1 start, San Jose has only posted a 4-7-3 record.
The problem? It is simple: goal scoring. The Sharks have embarked on a drought that would make the Oklahoma Dust Bowl look like an oasis.
Since the first eight games, San Jose has only scored three non-shootout goals on one occasion. In the last 15 games, it has averaged a mere 1.33 goals per game. In a league where the standard for victory in three goals or more, this lack of production just has not cut it.
If not for the play of goaltender Antii Niemi, things could very well be a disaster. His play has been extraordinary. He has kept San Jose in almost every game. Many saves have been of the highlight-reel variety. If it were not for his efforts, the Sharks very well could be out of the playoff picture.
Likewise, the defense has performed well. Brad Stuart has been a positive offseason addition. Marc-Edouard Vlasic has shown very well. As a team, the defense has only surrendered 51 goals, an average of 2.32 per game.
On offense, the Thornton/Marleau/Pavelski line has generated a lot of opportunities. Unfortunately, after the first line, the production falls way off.
Ryane Clowe is in a terrible slump. He has yet to record his first goal this season.
Michal Handzus has one goal and one assist. Yet so much more was expected from him.
Even Martin Havlat has but six points on the season.
The team, seemingly on a definite roll early on, has lost its stride. The lengthy February road trip — designed for HP Pavilion to host the SAP Tennis Classic for the last time — was miserable.
As fans continue to wait for that “breakout” game that will get the team back on track, the team seems incapable of breaking that magical three-goal plateau.
If the Sharks are going to make a run for it, they better start soon. In the competitive West, nearly all teams will be vying for the eight playoff spots. With Chicago playing at a record-breaking pace, the rest of the league battles for postseason existence.
San Jose takes on the St. Louis Blues today at HP Pavilion. After that, 12 of the final 25 games are at home. As the second half dawns, San Jose must find the scoring touch that lead it to great success at the beginning of the campaign.
Should the Sharks fail to do so, they may miss the playoffs for the first time in years.
Jim Adams lives in Nevada City and is a regular contributor to The Union and a broadcaster for TouchDown Productions. Contact him at email@example.com.