Sharks

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Sharks

Your head tells you it would take awhile for the San Jose Sharks to become the Stanley Cup favorite they were ordained to be when they traded for Erik Karlsson in September. Your heart tells you 22 games ought to have been enough time to at least be shifting into third gear and finding some open highway.
 
But your eyes are telling you they’re not there yet, and your gut is starting to churn because you’re worried that this might be yet one more unfulfilled tease from the reigning masters of Not Quite Yet.
 
Of those body parts, your head and eyes have figured them out best, and you’re not happy with either of their conclusions. The latest reason for this frustration was demonstrated Tuesday when they managed to hack up three more leads and lose to the Edmonton Oilers in overtime, 4-3.
 
The same Edmonton Oilers who have missed the playoffs in 11 of the last 12 seasons while having the best player in the game. The same Edmonton Oilers who fired their coach, former Sharks boss Todd McLellan, Tuesday morning after flying him down with the rest of the team to begin a road trip. The same Edmonton Oilers who have spun more No. 1 draft picks into less gold and more zinc than any team maybe ever.
 
And yes, we include the Philadelphia 76ers, who were trying to go south when they did the same thing.
 
In short, the Sharks could not maintain pace, drive or focus on a team that should be have been at best confused and at worst dispirited. Or, in the words of head coach Peter DeBoer, “Tonight is a disappointing one because I thought had we got a little bit better effort from everybody — from 20 guys — we should have got two points. We didn’t have enough participants tonight.”
 
Captain Joe Pavelski was a bit more granular, saying that yet again the Sharks allowed the Oilers too many odd-man rushes that turned into worrisome scoring chances in particular for McDavid and linemate Leon Draisaitl: 
 
“There was something just missing as far as a little jam to our game, and getting in there and getting some momentum or getting on the forecheck,” he said. “Same thing, they didn’t have a whole lot either. It was kind of a quiet game, to be honest.”
 
Well, fine then. Only this is the 14th game out of 22 in which they had a lead and couldn’t hold it, including in eight of their 11 losses. Maybe more participants would help, and maybe more jam would help, but the real issue here seems to be that they are taking their sweet time getting around to being the team they expected themselves to be when all this began.
 
It’s not like their path is too difficult to traverse; the Pacific Division they currently lead by a mere point over Calgary (the only team in the division to have won more than half its games) is top to bottom the worst in the league. The cumulative record of 75-78-15 is poor, and with McLellan gone, the division has also fired one-fourth of its membership in the first quarter of the season.
 
In short, the Sharks have wasted some prime opportunities to dismiss the rest of the division, and don’t have injuries as an excuse. They are healthy enough – they just haven’t devoted enough energy to the defensive grind that sent them to the Cup final in 2016 and has marked their play under DeBoer for most of his time in town. The 68 goals they have allowed puts them squarely in the bottom third of the league after being 10th, fifth and ninth the previous three seasons, and their pro-rated 253 goals allowed would be the most since 1996-7, when they were still expansion-level awful.
 
In other words, the Sharks are not making the game uncomfortable for the opponent, and the opponent seems perfectly willing to wait for their moment to counterattack. This can easily be fixed, but the fact that it hasn’t yet makes one wonder if they haven’t taken their fan base for another walk like so many others.
 
It’s too early to say that, of course, but it shouldn’t take a full quarter-season to figure that basic bit of standard hockey out. This isn’t Rams-Chiefs from Monday night, where the idea of defense was having the ball. Discomfiting the opponent shouldn’t be this spotty an exercise.
 
But there you go again, listening to your gut. Even on Thanksgiving, that’s a bad idea.