(Originally published at Kukla’s Korner, February 3, 2013)
The Sharks eased into the end of that winning streak. There was no sudden crash, though the Ducks game certainly came close. The team went through a nice smooth arc: Win, WIN, WIN, Win, win, shootout win, shootout win… loss. See how they kept getting closer to losing? If you want to nitpick, I guess you could say they are due a regulation loss but there’s no need to jump off that bridge yet. We saw it coming, we had a sense of what the end would feel like, no shock here.
Considering how many lineup changes McLellan made, I thought the Sharks played pretty well against the Predators. I think more players played better than in the last couple of games. That doesn’t always happen when you change three of four lines, two of three defense pairings, and add a couple guys to the lineup. There were mistakes, but the most glaring were redeemed by their makers.
The Predators are not an easy team for the Sharks to play. The Sharks like to be able to play, not scuffle endlessly in the corners and creep up and down the ice. But they did pretty well. If you put aside the stuff of nightmares that the non-goal from Martin Havlat was, the Sharks nearly won in regulation. That isn’t to say losing is okay, or that the Sharks didn’t. But the fact of that chance means that the team was not playing badly. It was a dumb error, but that’s all it was. It wasn’t the game-defining event that it very well could have been.
I can understand why the Havlat non-goal was replayed over and over and over and… Television loves an oddity. It was nice when CSN could put it against Havlat’s game tying goal, but I still felt a little sick every time I saw the blooper play. What amazes me is how people could be angry at Havlat over it. It was such a purely embarrassing mistake, how can an onlooker be angry about it? No one was injured, no one died, it was just a stupid mistake. It isn’t like he was celebratinghis goal. It isn’t like no one on the team could find the puck and they stood around looking for it while the other team booted them from the playoffs. It wasn’t like that.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic had a better game. I was surprised that he seemed to have some trouble in the last couple. I was more surprised that a new partner seemed to help. Demers had a good game, he didn’t look like he hadn’t played in months, but Stuart isn’t what you’d think of as a bad partner. There was that left-right thing that was all out of whack without Demers and Burns. Maybe that’s all it was.
Sheppard did well, though I think he was a little over-matched in a top six role. People talk a lot about the promotion and demotion of players between top lines and bottom lines, and certainly the guy who gets moved down is hardly ever someone who has been scoring a lot. Still, there is a valid argument to be made for moving someone down to raise the performance of that lower group. Doesn’t a team want at least three really dangerous lines in a game? Wouldn’t an ideal team have four?
One thing the Sharks top lines don’t have a problem with is defensive play. It isn’t like they have these race horses up top who have to be sheltered from the opposition’s attacks. We haven’t seen a lot of defensive lapses from any quarter. The only imbalance is in scoring. In this sense, I would consider the Havlat demotion more like a rescue mission: “someone has to go back and find those guys.” I guess it would be crazy to send one of your top three scorers, but you’re not going to send someone who can’t help either.
Scott Gomez has been amazingly helpful, despite having so little time with the team and being asked to play the wing. It would be nice to see what he can do with a little time in place: one line, one position, and more familiarity than you can get from one practice and part of a game.
Fans calling for Douglas Murray to sit could get their wish after that blocked shot in overtime. I don’t believe that Matt Irwin can replace Murray on the penalty kill, but if any defenseman is even a little banged-up, it seems logical to use the talented extras early in the season. It is still early.
Besides, they didn’t really lose, right? It was just a shootout loss, it doesn’t count as a defeat, does it, Blackhawks?
So, now the Sharks swim. They know perfectly well how to do that.
Brent Burns. How is Brent Burns? I went to a couple of practices just to see if I could see any difference in what he was doing or how he was doing it. Unfortunately, the more I watched the less I could see. You start imagining things if you look at the same thing too often. Did he really seem to be taking longer strides, pushing off harder, turning sharper, anything? From last week? Hell if I can tell any more. I think so?