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Sharks Gameday: Unmitigated

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I think the pressure has finally gotten to Niemi. He looks like he's snapped.
I think the pressure has finally gotten to Niemi. He looks like he's snapped.

Three games, one total goal scored. That's not going to be enough, guys.

2011 so far has been a disaster. The Sharks have fallen to last in the competitive Pacific division and their scoring touch has completely vanished. Did these guys have their New Year's party on an ancient Indian burial ground or something? Another game like the one against Anaheim, with tons of chances but nothing to show for it, and I'm going to have to do another exorcism.

Since I attended the horrible spectacle that was the Sharks' loss to the Ducks, I witnessed their failure first-hand. I noticed a few things about how the Sharks were playing that I think they may want to address.

1. Shoot smarter, not more - The Sharks always take a lot of shots, frequently out-shooting their opponent by a wide margin. So how come they can't score? Many Sharks seem to look for the first clear opportunity to take a shot, but if they have a clear view of the net that means the goalie has a clear view too, and has a good chance of stopping them.

As I've previously discussed, I wish I could find out how much time each team spent in the offensive zone, because despite their dominant shot totals I really feel the Sharks would end up trailing in this regard most games. They shoot the puck, the goalie saves it and freezes it or an opposing defenseman grabs it, the play goes the other way and then the other team spends some time in the Sharks' zone, frequently taking advantage of tired players who just led the rush in the other direction. It's almost basketball-esque at times, and it's not a good way to win hockey games.

2. Pointless point shots - Good God, stop with the point shots into defenders' shin-guards. Holy crap was this frustrating Sunday evening. I know you're feeling a lot of tension because you haven't scored, but don't force a shot through when there's an excellent chance it will just get blocked.

Even though they didn't score, I thought the Sharks' powerplay looked pretty good against the Ducks when they weren't trying to force point shots through. Jonas Hiller had a hell of a game.

3. Go to the net - One negative consequence of Todd McLellan's frequent line shuffling that I think needs to be considered is that players don't always know what their line-mates are going to do. Several times against the Ducks we had two or even three Sharks playing behind the Ducks' net or along the perimeter, trying to make something happen offensively. Since there would be no forward in front of Hiller, the only option would be to try to get the puck to a defender on the point, who would then try to fire it at the net. It's frustrating and tiring to battle and then have the puck down low behind the net or along the boards and then have to give up on the positioning you fought hard to get because there's nobody near the net to pass it to.

Every line needs a guy who will crash the net, blocking the goalie's view and jumping on rebounds. Sunday's game had numerous instances of two or three Sharks players appearing around Hiller, poking for lose pucks, a second or two after he'd already made the initial save. That's not how that works, fellas.

Which brings me to my last point:

4. Stop mixing up the lines - When Marleau plays with Heatley and Thornton, they know their roles. Thornton is the normal puck-possession guy, then usually Heatley crashes the net, and Marleau floats around looking for a short pass from Thornton or a rebound. They may have struggled a bit this season but this trio has worked together ridiculously well in the past - put them back on one line and let them find their scoring touch again.

In fact, stop messing with the top three lines entirely, okay? Just let guys play together, in games and in practice, until they start to learn their roles and can begin to anticipate where their line-mates will be. I know it's fun to juggle lines, and it feels like you're being proactive and are taking steps to solve the scoring problem, but CLEARLY it isn't working. Just leave three lines intact. What's the worst that will happen? The Sharks might only score one goal in three games while they figure stuff out?

Next Game

Toronto Maple Leafs
@ San Jose Sharks

Tuesday, Jan 11, 2011, 7:30 PM PST
HP Pavilion

Complete Coverage >

Prediction: All the goals the Sharks should have scored in the past three games show up tonight, and the Sharks win 12-3.