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The Sharks: Losing Mind Games

(Originally published at Kukla’s Korner, February 23, 2013)

Winning breeds winning. The Sharks defense is “winning,” their offense isn’t.  It’s easier to get your brain into a defensive or reactive mode when you lack confidence.  Being aggressive or creative requires confidence.   Confidence or such a lack of it that you feel fear, like a cornered animal.   You don’t want that.  The execution of a cornered animal is about as precise as a cannon with one broken wheel.  Fear, while it might make you go faster or be stronger, won’t help with precision or missed passes.  You know the ones I mean, those passes that leave the stick about two seconds before the brain registers “Wait, he’s not on my team…”

Ray Emery playing well is never depressing for me.  I was in the Emery Comeback Camp from the time I heard he was hoping to return from that hip surgery.  I couldn’t believe he’d make it back, but I was impressed that he wanted to do it. So part of me is always rooting for Emery.  After the game, he was asked about the Sharks’ power play:

That’s a great power play, those guys they put out there are a great group, so if we keep them off the board, it’s a bonus.

Such a nice thing to say, even if it doesn’t seem very true.  

The perfect symbol of failed offense is the Sharks’ power play, so utterly without success that the natural thing for it to do is get worse and start giving up short handed goals.  Like it’s trapped in losing’s gravitational pull, it will keep getting worse as long as it fails to improve.  Nothing is static– is it always growing or shrinking, getting stronger or weaker.  Equilibrium does not exist.  The appearance of such is merely an illusion, like this:

That video reinforces my theory about magnetized pucks.  It could be done.

So confidence is a problem.  Why?  Is it because the Sharks won all those games before they knew what hit them, and were unprepared for adversity?  With each win, did they tumble deeper into a rabbit hole of good press and better bounces?  Why hasn’t that happened to the Blackhawks?  Is it the vitamin D?  Do the Blackhawks take better vitamins?  How better? Are they vegan vitamins?  Do the Blackhawks’ get their vitamin D from magic mushrooms? Magic mushrooms found deep in the rainforest, picked by mute children?

Why hasn’t not losing messed with the Blackhawks?

Friday was so unrelentingly awful for Sharks hockey.  First, the Worcester Sharks lost to the Manchester Monarchs, a team just below them in all kinds of stats and standings.  They didn’t just lose, they lost 7-2.  It was supposed to be a happy day, with Taylor Doherty back in the lineup.  Then, just under an hour after the Sharks lost to Chicago 2-1, the Bulls lost 4-0 in Idaho.  They were down 4-0 before the Sharks finished losing, but it all piles up so it’s hard to keep track of the timing.  Awful awfulness.

To top it off, I can’t even feel justifiably freaked out about the Sharks losing.  They’ve still won as many as they’ve lost.  And so many one goal games, all these good reasons to not panic.  It isn’t fair.  At least allow me the satisfaction of a good and proper freak out.

As an observer, I don’t think losing to the Blackhawks was a bigger problem than losing to anyone else.  I’m glad the Sharks won’t play them again soon.  Coming close to winning didn’t give the Sharks any satisfaction:

“You never do. It’s a win or loss league,” said Logan Couture. “That’s the way this thing goes.” -Mercury News

I would go a step further and say it’s time for the Sharks to think beyond winning and losing.  They need to start shooting for more robust wins, something more resounding than a one goal game.  If the Sharks had won last night’s game 1-0 they would still be in the same spot: mostly solid defense with a woeful shortage of scoring.  Sometimes to hit the target you need to aim high.

Brent Burns was a hot topic of conversation after last night’s game.  What was he thinking on that Saad goal?  Was he was thinking he shouldn’t get in Niemi’s eyes?  Were his legs tired, as Hedican suggested in the post game?  Maybe he didn’t want to screen the shot.  I don’t think Niemi was really ready for him to do that.  Staying out of the goalie’s line of sight is one thing, leaving the shooter completely alone is another.

It was an odd choice.  I know Nabokov would get agitated when his defensemen screened a shot or, worse, redirected it with a failed block.  Niemi isn’t known for that.  I have a vivid memory of Vlasic specifically saying  that Nemo doesn’t yell at them.  In any case, Burns never went through the Nabokov school of defensemen training.  It was just a piss-poor decision.

Burns showed some indecisiveness on the first goal too.  So he failed to prevent both Chicago goals, but blaming Burns for last night is like arguing that if Niemi would  stop more shots, the Sharks would win.  Both arguments are unsound.  The Sharks need to score.  Blaming anyone for allowing one or two goals isn’t going to solve the problem.

Jamie McGinn said something interesting at the end of an Avalanche mailbag this week.  He was asked if he has any pre-game superstitions:

 I think I have a lot of superstitions that I don’t even know about. They kind of just become a part of my routine every day.

Try as we might to understand what makes us tick, the odds are good that we still have no idea what is working on our brain at any given moment.  Denial is the easy one to identify, when we know something’s bugging us but we can’t cope with how much it bugs us so we say it isn’t bugging us and let it wreak unchecked havoc on our subconscious.  But that’s just denial, there are all kinds of things, habits, memories, mental irritants that drain our energy and dull our focus.  Clearing those out isn’t as easy as skating hard at practice or doing endless drills.  Practice drills can help you get in good habits, but if you have some ingrained bad habits that only show up at game time, practice won’t help.

The only way to fix it is to get back in the game, which is exactly what all the Sharks teams will do today.   Worcester Sharks host the Portland Pirates  at 4:00 PST.  SF Bulls play at Idaho, 6:10 PST.  And the Sharks, our dear muddled Sharks, they face Dallas at 5:oo PST.

How should the Sharks feel?  Depressed?  Angry?  Whether it’s because they dno’t do anger well or because anger doesn’t help, I would give up on anger.  Maybe try playing happy.  This is supposed to be fun, right?  So get back on the horse.  Forget about roping, don’t worry about whether everyone is doing it or not.  Just put a foot in the stirrup, swing your leg over and stay on the horse.  Keep it simple.

===========================

I’m curious about why Burish was moved to center, with Desi pushed to the wing.  I know Desi can do that, but it made me wonder if Burish is better in the faceoff circle?

Look that up…

Many have been asking “why would Douglas Murray play instead of Justin Braun or Jason Demers?”  I have asked that, I like how Demers and Braun play together.  The theory is out there that it’s Murray’s penalty-killing skills that keep him in the lineup.  In any case, McLellan wants him there so fans should get used to it.  I think it’s helpful to put it in perspective, compare Murray to defensemen whose continued ice time mystified fans in the past.  Defensemen like Colin White, and before him Niclas Wallin.  To a lesser extent Kent Huskins was also much maligned.  In any case, I believe that Douglas Murray is a significant improvement over all of those players, so I’m not going to fret too much about why Braun or Demers keep sitting so he can stay in the lineup.

Anyway, it was an absolutely terrible sign that the Blackhawks tied the game with a short-handed goal.  What has become of the Sharks’ penalty kill… oh, right, that was the power play’s fault.  I guess that’s the only way a power play can get worse than not scoring: start giving up shorties.

Ugh.

The Blackhawks’ second goal looked a heck of a lot like Kennedy’s goal in St. Louis.  I guess those hard shots have a better chance of getting through than previously thought.

Joe Thornton made a lot of odd decisions in this game.  He kept trying to pass the puck through too many players, and sometimes one guy was too many.  I’m sure Chicago was working hard to cover him but still, throwing the puck to no one, or trying to pass it to someone who was on the other side of a guy intent on stopping it, that just doesn’t make sense.

I was really hoping that Chicago’s record would go to 13-1-3 for symmetry’s sake, and also as a welcome back to number 13, Dan Carcillo.

With 7:32 left in the third period, it didn’t look good.

It wasn’t like Thornton was the only one giving the puck away.  But he’s supposed to be so good at putting the puck where he wants it, it was depressing.

Ray Emery playing well is never depressing for me.  I was in the Emery Comeback Camp from the time I heard he was hoping to return from that hip surgery.  I was wowed that he’d chosen that type of surgery specifically because it might let him play again, while a traditional hip replacement would not. So part of me is always rooting for Razor Ray.

After the game, he was asked about the Sharks’ power play:

“That’s a great power play, those guys they put out there are a great group, so if we keep them off the board, it’s a bonus.”

Aww, that’s nice of you to say, Ray, but right now it doesn’t feel very true.

If there was any truth to jinxes, that should have helped the Sharks, that and everyone saying the Blackhawks can’t be beaten.

Wingels’ stick breaking was classic.  Why not, why wouldn’t a broken stick wreck one of the teams’ best chances?

The Sharks are confusing some folks.  They’re either not as good as they looked or not as bad as they look now… I think they probably got a little dull with all those early wins.  They didn’t  confront as much resistance as they are seeing now.  So is the question of “as good” or “as bad” possibly eating away at them as well?  Despite saying the right things and talking about keeping their calm, is this doubt eating away at their confidence?  Is that what’s wrong with their execution?

Execution can be improved with practice but it is demolished by doubt.

If Sharks fans were hoping for some relief from Sharks affiliates today, it was not coming.  Worcester lost 7-4 to Manchester, and the Bulls lost 4-0 to the Steelheads in Idaho.

On the bright side, the Sharks don’t have to play Chicago again this season.  Give thanks for small mercies?

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