The beards are coming off. Sharks players, broadcasters and fans alike are all shaving their playoff beards as their beloved team is out of the playoffs once again.
Facing the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings, the Sharks fell in game 7 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. Fans really shouldn’t be surprised at the result. This marks the 16th time in franchise history that they have fallen short. Isn’t it about time they show some results?
This year’s third place finish in the Pacific division was the worst in their current 8th consecutive playoff appearance. Before the first game, the Sharks were doomed. In the regular season the Sharks and Kings split the series, with the home team winning each game. The Kings, being the higher seeded team, had a distinct advantage. This was just the beginning of the end.
Bad-boy Raffi Torres was suspended for his hit on Jarret Stoll in game 1. Fans and teammates agreed with General Manager Doug Wilson who came out and laid it all down for the NHL. He was fined $100,000 for his comments, and it didn’t change a thing. Torres was suspended for the remainder of the series. Without a gritty forward who kept opposing players afraid, the Kings’ tempo at home picked up.
Game 2 was where the Sharks buried their chances of pulling off the biggest upset of the series. Up 3-2 in the final minutes of play, San Jose took two bad penalties, resulting in a 5-on-3 powerplay for the Kings. Two goals later, San Jose found themselves down in a decisive 2-0 in the series. Not sealing the road win was just another misstep in their fall.
Injuries always seem to play a role in the playoffs. Players will never admit it, but they are willing to play through the pain and sacrifice themselves for the team. Two years ago, Thornton had to get help from other players to put on his jersey. Martin Havlat returned from a first round injury only to bow out in game 1 to that same injury. In game 4 Logan Couture sprained his ankle. He came back after visiting the locker room and scored the game-winning goal in overtime. He said it didn’t affect him, but his game said otherwise. After the injury, he only had one point in the last three games. His lack of productivity allowed the old guard to take command, but they too failed.
The captain, Joe Thornton, and his alternates, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle, were invisible inside the Staples Center. Really, all the Sharks were. The fact is, there is no chance to win a series without home ice advantage if your leaders cannot make their presence known in the opponent’s arena. Wilson has shown already that he’s willing to deal key players away for the bettering of his team. Wilson has said earlier this season that Head Coach Todd McLellan’s job is safe. Now it falls to changing the players to get the best team to make their next Stanley Cup run.
Marleau, Thornton and Boyle are getting up there in age. They may be producing during the regular season, but when it comes to the playoffs, they have yet to show consistent results. The team is getting younger, and the new leaders of the Sharks need to reflect that. Bring in Pavelski, Couture and Demers as the new leaders and this team is poised to make a big turn. The young guns of San Jose are starting to get noticed since Edmonton’s youth still has yet to get them to the playoffs. The NHL trend to name younger players as captain has paid off: Chicago and Pittsburgh had two of the youngest captains when they won the cup in the last five years. Maybe it’s time the Sharks take note.