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San Jose Sharks

Sharks Suffering Crisis of Confidence

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Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

The San Jose Sharks should be surging up, but instead, they’re as down as they’ve been all year.

The latest rock-bottom was the Sharks’ 7-3 loss to the Calgary Flames at SAP Center last night. This followed a 5-2 defeat to the same Flames on Sunday night.

“I just kind of sensed before the game, and you could see it certainly after the start, that there wasn’t a lot of [belief],” head coach David Quinn intimated today. “I could read the body language. We don’t have Hertl. We don’t have Kunin. We just got beat. We’re off to this [bad start].”

The gains made over the last two weeks – San Jose was on a four-game point streak, punctuated by victories over cellar-dwellers Anaheim Ducks and Arizona Coyotes – seem lost.

“Today I thought for the first time [this season], we just looked scared at times,” Nico Sturm confessed. “Certainly being down 2-0 after 15 seconds or whatever, it certainly doesn’t help, right? You don’t have any confidence with the puck when you get it. Guys are scared to make the next mistake being down 3-0.”

So where do the Sharks turn to from here?

I’m not sure if anybody knows.

Should the Sharks turn to their stars?

The same core of Erik Karlsson, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Logan Couture that has led San Jose to three straight seasons out of the playoffs?

What we learned last year is painfully true this season too: Karlsson, Meier, Hertl, and Couture had good-to-great individual campaigns last year. It wasn’t enough. And it’s not enough now.

Last night? Well, Hertl wasn’t there because he was suspended two games for an undisciplined high stick on Elias Lindholm. Karlsson made a brilliant pass to Meier for a goal last night, and another to Tyler Toffoli for a Dillon Dube goal 30 seconds in.

Should the Sharks look deep, toward their depth forwards and defensemen?

From Nick Bonino to Matt Nieto to Evgeny Svechnikov to Noah Gregor to Scott Harrington to Matt Benning to Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Sharks are probably playing out of their depth in most places in the line-up.

Last night? Svechnikov – he wasn’t the only one – made multiple turnovers high in the O-zone. Benning rimmed it to a double-covered Alexander Barabanov, a telegraphed turnover that led to Calgary’s game-opening goal 15 seconds in. Radim Simek overplayed Nazem Kadri, ceding Kadri the center lane for the eventual game-winning goal.

How about the Sharks’ goaltending?

James Reimer and Kaapo Kahkonen (and a drop of Eetu Makiniemi) have a combined .883 Save %, good for third-worst in the NHL.

The last two games? Both San Jose netminders were actually much better their save percentages, but Reimer (Lucic) and Kahkonen (Dube) also gave up dagger goals that I’d guess they’d want back.

Should the Sharks look to their special teams?

The power play is slightly improved, 18th in the league this season, 22nd last year. The penalty kill, by and large, remains a strength, second in the NHL this season, second last year.

But at a critical moment last night – 3-3, Milan Lucic going to the box for a retaliatory knee on Simek, the Sharks power play sputtered, and the Flames responded with four unanswered goals. It was a sharp contrast to Sunday night, when Calgary answered Hertl’s retaliatory high stick with a Lindholm strike to make it 3-1.

Speaking of the PK, they’ve slumped recently, surrendering 10 goals in their last 30 attempts.

Can William Eklund or Thomas Bordeleau save the day?

I don’t think there’s any doubt that top prospects Eklund and Bordeleau could help the Sharks in some ways right now, for example, a second power play unit that currently features, up front, usual bottom-six forwards Sturm, Bonino, Svechnikov, and Nieto.

But the youngsters’ all-around games are still incomplete, and they might help the big club a little, but honestly, I don’t think they help that much.

If the Sharks call them up, it’s not for them to save the season, but because it’s best for their development.

Should GM Mike Grier pick up the phone and make some trades?

Truthfully, he’s not dealing from a position of strength with most of his players.

Karlsson, Hertl, Couture, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, even if they wanted to leave San Jose, aren’t fetching much of anything because of their long, expensive contracts.

Grier is not flush with prospects or picks, not that he could afford to part with them.

Perhaps only Meier, a pending RFA, in the entirety of the San Jose organization can be dealt for either immediate help or a rich bounty of futures.

So where does that leave the Sharks?

“You can’t win if you don’t believe you can win,” Quinn said today.

From the stars to the support players to the goaltending to the special teams to the farm system, who or what can the Sharks truly believe in?

The Sharks, to take President Jimmy Carter’s words, have suffered a crisis of confidence since the 2019-20 season.

“I know what our record is. But all I give two shits about is tomorrow,” Quinn said, trying to focus the 10-18-6 Sharks. “You’ve got to be mentally disciplined enough to just live in the moment and take care of today.”

Help isn’t coming from above, help isn’t coming from below. The Sharks have only each other to turn to – but that hasn’t been good enough for a long time.

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