The more I see of the San Jose Sharks, the more I do not see a true Stanley Cup contender.
Sure, the Sharks staged a nifty little third period comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night, but what the heck were they doing trailing 2-0 after 40 minutes in the first place?
Clearly the Sharks were no more prepared to play hockey against Toronto than the Leafs were against the Kings in Los Angeles Thursday night or the night before that in Anaheim when they were smoked by a combined score of 10-2.
Sunday, San Jose couldn’t hold onto a lead against the emerging Anaheim Ducks.
The Sharks have seemingly been on the cusp of greatness for a few years now, but in the end, have always fallen short.
This year, though, they just don’t seem to have the magic. You’d never know it by looking at the standings because San Jose stands a very impressive second in the Western Conference with a 25-12-6 record and are 7-1-2 in its past 10 starts.
But if you examine the Sharks closely, a couple of things are quite evident.
For starters, Joe Thornton’s play lacks spark. Sure he ranks 12th in NHL scoring, but generally this time of year he’s in contention for the Art Ross Trophy, not outside the top 10. Big Joe hasn’t scored a goal in 13 games and has just one marker in 18.
Then there’s the plight of 2006 Rocket Richard Trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo. The player that led the NHL in goals with 56 in 2005-06 has battled injuries this season and had just five goals and 11 points through 36 games.
Captain Patrick Marleau, who has been a consistently strong scorer throughout his career, was skating in quicksand with just eight goals and 21 points (he’s also minus-14) in 44 games.
The fact defenseman Craig Rivet was fourth in team scoring with four goals and 20 points tells you just about all you really need to know about San Jose’s anemic offense.
The Sharks have had terrific goaltending from Evgeni Nabokov, who started each of the team’s first 43 games, but will that be enough in the playoffs? Or, perhaps, more importantly, will he be burnt out in the post-season?
The Sharks pride themselves on team defense and the fact they rank second behind only the Red Wings in goals-allowed bodes well for the team.
That said, I wouldn’t consider the Sharks a favorite in a playoff series against Detroit, Anaheim, Calgary, Dallas or Vancouver the way they are playing these days.
I predict an early exit from the playoffs for the Sharks this season followed by an overhaul of the team prior to 2008-09.
Mike Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and his column, Double OT, appears Wednesday.
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