The San Jose Sharks say they haven’t given up on the playoffs, but you sure couldn’t tell that last night.
“It’s on the forwards, it’s on the defensemen, it’s on the goalie,” head coach David Quinn said today about the Sharks’ 6-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. “All three positions have to be better defensively.”
The Sharks entered action 11 points out of the last Western Conference wild card spot.
It’s actually just the fourth time in franchise history that they’ve been double-digit points out of the playoffs on Christmas.
In 1995-96, after a 3-18-4 start got head coach Kevin Constantine canned, the Sharks were 13 points out of the post-season at Christmas. In the 1992-93, that second season when they went a franchise-worst 11-71-2, they were 20 points out at Christmas. In 1991-92, their expansion campaign, they were 12 points out at Christmas.
The San Jose Sharks have made the playoffs three times when out of it at Christmas, but not from that far back.
The 2005-06 Sharks were four points out at Christmas, the 1998-99 Sharks were five points out, and the 1993-94 Sharks were three points out.
But these Sharks haven’t given us reason to believe that they’re going to make up much ground.
If they do, it will probably be on the backs of Erik Karlsson and Timo Meier, who combined for the lone Sharks goals last night.
Karlsson is on pace for 109 points – he would be the first defenseman since Brian Leetch in 1991-92 to crack the century mark. Meier reached the 20-goal mark last night, just the 11th skater this season with that many.
Karlsson and Meier have found some chemistry together this season, with four of Meier’s last five goals coming off Karlsson primary assists. Among the 20-goal scorers, Karlsson-to-Meier is one of the more prolific passer-to-scorer duos:
McDavid (Draisaitl) 12
Thompson (Skinner) 9
Draisaitl (McDavid) 9
Meier (Karlsson) 8
But as productive as Meier and Karlsson are, the Sharks aren’t going anywhere but the lottery if they score two, and the team surrenders six.
That’s on them too.
“You’re always going to be a reflection of your top players,” Quinn said today. “A lot of our top guys have had really good seasons, so you don’t want to just drop it on them. But there are things that everybody can do differently, and everybody can be better.”
He put it succinctly last night: “You’ve gotta care about defending just as much as you do about scoring a goal.”
This wasn’t directed at just Karlsson and Meier – but both can defend harder and manage the puck better.
It’s understandable, of course. You’re Erik Karlsson, for example, and your team is constantly down. And you started the season 0-5-0, and you’re now just 11-19-6.
The San Jose Sharks haven’t just been chasing a game, they’ve been chasing a season.
“That’s absolutely part of the problem, we get distracted by, whether it’s the record or the score, and all of a sudden there’s a sliver of, maybe I’ll cheat offensively. And that’s not how it works. That’s not how you get out of it. That’s not how you make situations better,” Quinn said. “We’ve got to learn how to make a situation better. Right now, we make it worse too often, when we can make it better.”
But that discipline, that patience to not “cheat” in a losing situation isn’t a commonplace trait, even among the NHL’s best. We can see this with the Sharks.
Quinn has frequently referenced a conversation that he had with captain Logan Couture on Long Island early in the season, about breaking the bad habits that the Sharks have developed over the last three playoff-less campaigns.
“He just literally said it’s gonna take some time. It’s gonna take a long time,” Quinn said, then laughing. “I don’t mean a month.”
The San Jose Sharks bench boss is more hopeful though than history suggests that he should be.
“I’m very optimistic we’re going to get there. Because I see what we’re capable of doing and it’s just the consistency factor, right?” he offered. “But when you’re asking people to do things probably they’ve never done before as a group, it takes time to get there.”
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