Sharks

What's gone wrong with the Sharks?

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What's gone wrong with the Sharks?

SAN JOSE The playoff race in the Western Conference has been whittled down to four teams clamoring for three spots, and if you believe the math, the Sharks are the least likely to make it of the four.

Theres been no shortage of opinions as to whats gone wrong for a club that was supposed to challenge for the Stanley Cup this year after two deep runs in each of the past two seasons (cue Ray RattoDrew Remenda).

RELATED: Ratto vs. Remenda

Here, in no particular order, are some of the more common notions why the Sharks are where they are, and why these reasons may or may not hold water. The answer probably lies somewhere in between.

They arent motivated

Why its true: This has obviously been the biggest criticism of the Sharks over the years, and the conversation usually begins with Patrick Marleau. The former Sharks captain hasnt shown the kind of effort youd expect from the teams second highest-paid player in the midst of a playoff push, as he has just two goals in his last 18 games. Marleau isnt the only one, though. Logan Couture has to be held accountable here, too. The second-year All-Star has just three goals in his last 15 games (two in the same game) since the NHLs trade deadline, which, coincidentally or not, was when he saw his best friend on the team traded to the Avalanche in Jamie McGinn.

Why it isnt: Statistically speaking, Couture and Marleau are still second and third, respectively, on the Sharks in scoring. Joe Thornton is another player that is often on the receiving end of being too relaxed, but his play on the ice and his numbers on the scoresheet reveal otherwise this season. Thornton has been the Sharks most consistent offensive threat for the past two months, and has at least a point in 21 of the last 31 games.

RELATED: Occam's Sharks and a Stanley Cup playoff struggle

The schedule

Why its true: The Sharks are coming off of two deep runs in the past two springs, with generally the same group of corps players. Thats a lot of hockey. A nine-game, 15-day road trip to conclude February and 17 games in March havent helped matters, as the team hasnt had nearly enough time to practice or rest.

What it isnt: The Sharks had a light first half of the year, and that should have given them plenty of energy for the second half. Nearly everyone on the roster has gone through a Western Conference travel schedule before and should be plenty used to it by now.

They just arent good enough

Why its true: The Sharks have a top heavy offense, but their third and fourth lines dont produce enough and are too reliant upon young players like Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels, who are still learning the ropes of what it takes to play in the NHL. The defense, meanwhile, is as thin as its ever been. Colin White and Jason Demers have shown that they aren't everyday NHL players; Brent Burns shows some offensive flash but still makes at least one or two egregious errors a night, and goaltender Antti Niemi has not looked like the player who led Chicago to the Stanley Cup in 2010 or started 34 straight for the Sharks in the second half of last season.

Why it isnt: A lineup that includes Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Marty Havlat and Joe Pavleksi boasts as much top-end talent as there is in the NHL. There should be enough there to at least secure a playoff spot. Period.

Trades havent panned out

Why its true: The Jamie McGinn trade may be viewed as one of the worst deals of the Doug Wilson era for years to come and when realignment goes through, McGinn could end up being a thorn in the Sharks side while playing for a division rival in Colorado. Daniel Winnik has had his moments, but could easily walk at the end of the season as an unrestricted free agent. TJ Galiardi has been hurt, but hasnt done much when hes in the lineup, anyway. The acquisition of Dominic Moore has been a complete and utter failure. The center is essentially playing on the fourth line and has just four assists in 19 games and a -8 rating at the expense a high second round draft pick. Ouch.

Why it isnt: Winnik scored a couple of big goals last week during the teams three-game winning streak, and has seemed to find chemistry with Desjardins and Wingels. Hes also seen time on the penalty kill. Galiardi still has time to make in impact after returning from a back injury, and as a restricted free agent at the end of the year, the club could conceivably keep him around.

Goaltending

Why its true: Antti Niemis numbers this season arent terrible, but the goaltender has failed to both steal a game or make the big save something an NHL starting goaltender has to be able to do on occasion. He looks shaky in net when it comes to rebound control, and hasnt been able to find any sort of rhythm.

Why it isnt: Niemi cant score goals. The Sharks' offense has taken a step back this season, and their 2.51 team goals-against average is still eighth best in the NHL.

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

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USATSI

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

The difference between a 2-3-0 start and a 1-4-0 start is bigger than two standings points.

The former is far from ideal, but if you squint hard enough, there's enough wiggle room to improve. There's still time with the latter, too, but the margin for error is much thinner moving forward.

The Sharks experienced that difference firsthand after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It's not an ideal record, but they’ve managed to salvage a poor start. 

There are still some flaws, to be sure. The power play isn't just the Kevin Labanc show after the top unit scored all three power play goals Tuesday, but is still carrying a disproportionate offensive load. The penalty kill’s scoreless streak came to an end, but they were called into action six times.

Despite all that, Tuesday's win was San Jose’s best effort this season. Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton all had multi-point games for the first time this year. Martin Jones had another strong game, and appears to have shaken off his slow start.

In short, San Jose’s game is headed in the right direction. It needs to be, with a five-game road trip beginning on Friday. 

Now comes the hard part.

It's on the road where we’ll get our best sense of who this team really is. Peter DeBoer won’t have the benefit of last change, and won't be able to dictate matchups. 

Under these circumstances, we’ll begin to really see if Joakim Ryan is ready for a top-four role, whether Kevin Labanc is a viable first-line winger, and how the rest of the young reinforcements stack up. They will have less time off, too, as all but one game occurs after one day (or less) of rest and travel. That missed practice time isn't ideal for any team, let alone one still trying to work out the kinks.

Fortunately, the competition is forgiving, at least on paper. Other than the Devils, none of the Sharks’ four other road trip opponents have winning records as of this writing. The topsy turvy nature of the standings, though, show how little “on paper” means this early in the season.

We’ll know a lot more about who these San Jose Sharks are by the time their road trip ends. Their record still won't tell the whole story, but by then, they'll have played about an eighth of the season. 

And by then, we’ll have a much better idea of how good this team really is.

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens

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AP

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE — Logan Couture credited a teammate for scoring his second goal. He took credit for the first one.

Couture scored a pair of goals and the San Jose Sharks extended their dominance of the Montreal Canadiens with a 5-2 victory on Tuesday night.

Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl also scored for the Sharks, who have won the past 11 home games against the Canadiens, a streak that dates to Nov. 23, 1999.

On a power play late in the third period, rookie Tim Heed took a shot off a face-off that bounced free in front of the net. Pavelski couldn't get his stick on it but managed to kick it across the net for Couture, who found a huge opening.

"That was pretty special," Couture said. "I don't know if he knew I was there but he kept his balance and kicked it over."

Couture opened the scoring 3:30 into the first period, grabbing a rebound off the back board, skating across the front of the net to get Price to commit and then firing into an open net.

Jonathan Drouin and Shea Weber scored for the Canadiens, who are winless since an opening night victory at the Buffalo Sabres.

"It's a very poor start from our team, from myself, from a lot of individuals," Canadiens' Max Pacioretty said. "It's a good time to look in the mirror and see what we're made of because a lot of people are probably doubting this team right now."

Martin Jones stopped 28 of 30 shots for the Sharks, who finish their season-opening homestand with a 2-3 record.

"The biggest thing is finding that energy for the whole game," Jones said. "We started OK and then we got better as the night went on."

Carey Price, who stopped 31 of 35 shots, fell to 2-7-1 in 10 games against the Sharks.

The Canadiens responded 36 seconds later when Drouin picked up a pass from Artturi Lehkonen close in and fired it over Jones' left shoulder and into the net.

Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead for good when he redirected Kevin Labanc's shot just under a minute into the second period. The shot hit Weber's left shin pad and bounced into the net.

"There were a lot of good things out there," Pavelski said. "We didn't have the homestand we wanted but we can leave on a positive note to take on the road."

Hertl padded the lead midway through the second on a power play. Standing on the right side of the net, he was trying to control a pass from Joe Thornton but the puck fluttered off his stick and got behind Price.

"I'll take it any way I can get it," Hertl said. "There are times I've had great shots that just bounced off the post."

Weber's power-play goal two minutes later kicked off Jones' skates for the score.

The Sharks needed five seconds to score on a power play late in the second period. Tim Heed shot on goal and it bounced off Pavelski's skate. Couture picked it up and found a huge opening.

NOTES: After allowing three power play goals over their first five penalty kills, the Sharks killed off 14 straight until Weber scored in the second period. ... Couture recorded his 24th career multi-goal game. ... Sharks D Tim Heed recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Couture's power-play goal. ... Brendan Gallagher needs one assist for 100 with the Canadiens.

UP NEXT:

Canadiens: plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday in their second back-to-back of the season.

Sharks: open a five-game road trip on the east coast with a game at the New Jersey Devils on Friday.