Continuing our season of getting to know our enemies, today we've got Fear the Fin's gameday coverage. To help introduce you to our SB Nation Sharks blog, we reached out and asked 3 questions. The Neutral was kind enough to answer those for us.
Actual game results aside, what's the story of the Sharks play so far this season? What's the real Sharks team when you cut through all the crap?
As unbelievable as it might sound, the Sharks were a much better team in many respects when they dropped nine of ten games than when they rattled off seven wins in a row to begin the season. Save for a few nightmarish outings (that 6-2 loss in Columbus comes to mind), they were largely better at controlling the flow of play through the neutral zone and completed the process of transforming a penalty kill that had been awful for two years running and continued to struggle at the outset of 2013 into one of the better units in the league. In a special teams role reversal, it was their historically dominant power play that utterly malfunctioned over the course of their losing skid after shooting the lights out at the beginning of the year, exacerbating the offensive troubles they've run into by being unable to bury their chances at even-strength. Essentially, the Sharks aren't nearly as good as their perfect January would imply and they aren't nearly as bad as their recent run of nine losses in ten games would indicate. Their concrete, underlying issues are predictable; forward depth has been nonexistent in San Jose since last season and the team has unsurprisingly not been able to get much in the way of positive contributions, let alone scoring, from their bottom six. With Ryane Clowe still stuck on zero goals and Martin Havlat's effectiveness dwindling as of late, it isn't difficult to figure out why this team has fallen to 25th in offense. Brent Burns being out of commission for most of the year (and never fully healthy even when he was in the lineup) has also stunted the Sharks' effectiveness on the breakout at times. Still, the power play appears to be rising after its fall, the penalty kill has been terrific, Antti Niemi is in the midst of the best season of his career, the top line when united has been dominant in all three zones and it's unlikely San Jose keeps shooting blanks 5-on-5. If they can reintegrate a healthy Burns into the lineup and coax some production out of their bottom six, they should at the very least be a contender for the division title.
2. Sean McIndoe listed Todd McClellan at being on the hottest of hot seats for NHL coaches right now. How fair is that assessment? What kind of results should the Sharks put up for McClellan to find himself still employed in San Jose next season?
It's fair in the sense that standard protocol in the NHL seems to be to blame head coaches for problems that have very little to do with them. I think it would be a pretty big mistake for Doug Wilson to fire McLellan at this point; they've had a ten-game streak of poor results and had about a 19-game run that went similarly last season but, in both cases, the team's record was driven more by horrendous puck luck than a systemic breakdown. Which is to say, they've had their spurts of poor execution offensively over the past few years but it's difficult to pin the blame on McLellan when the team has continued to play impressive territorial hockey through those stretches. Regardless of the Sharks' recent struggles in the area, McLellan has also been a wizard on the power play since arriving in San Jose and that's easily been one of the biggest reasons the Sharks have won so many games over the past four years and change. Since McLellan took over as coach in 2008, no team has scored more 5-on-4 goals per minute, only four teams have posted a better 5-on-5 goal difference, only one team has won more games and no club has made more conference final appearances. It's hard to imagine McLellan's potential replacement doing any better than that and very easy to imagine them doing a lot worse. That said, I think it's entirely possible that McLellan is canned if the Sharks finish as low in the standings and/or exit the playoffs as quickly as they did a year ago. I still won't be convinced that it's the right move.
3. What is the single worst and the single best thing for the Sharks about the proposed realignment?
The single best thing, without the schedule matrix being entirely set in stone at this point, is that games against the Blackhawks, Blues and Red Wings will presumably be replaced by additional contests against Calgary, Edmonton and, uh, the Seattle Coyotes. The single worst thing is that games against the Blackhawks, Blues and Red Wings will be replaced by additional games against the Flames, Oilers and 'Yotes. While it certainly improves the Sharks' chances at a playoff berth, I have to admit I'll miss the rivalries that have festered with teams like Detroit, Chicago and Dallas over the years. On the other hand, traveling almost exclusively within their time zone for conference games is another positive for the Sharks.