After a promising 7-0 start, anxiety is resuming in San Jose and talk of a major Shark Tank shake-up is swirling around town.
The Sharks are 1-4-3 in their last eight contests and they’re averaging an anemic 1.25 goals per game over that span. Panic is setting in once again and the answer, if you listen to the critics, is to blow up the nucleus and send one of the team’s big-name players — Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle or Patrick Marleau — packing.
We heard these calls throughout the winter last year and they amplified in the spring once the Sharks were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs in five games. The end of this team as we know it might be inevitable, but it doesn’t make any sense to break up the band until the season is over.
General manager Doug Wilson could have dismantled the team in July and started over. Instead, he tweaked the coaching staff, bringing in Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson to overhaul the penalty kill and instill a more defensive system of play. He added two players, Brad Stuart and Adam Burish, and so far, the moves are producing the desired results.
The Sharks are fifth in the NHL in goals against (2.13 per game), up from eighth last season (2.50), and fifth on the penalty kill (87.1 percent), a staggering improvement from a year ago when they ranked second-to-last in the league (76.9 percent). Most of the team’s games are low-scoring affairs, the type of battles you can expect to see when the puck drops on the real season in April.
In contrast to past seasons, the Sharks’ style of play is better suited for playoff hockey (see Tuesday’s 2-1 victory in St. Louis) with one of the most consistent blue lines, a rock-solid goaltender in Antti Niemi and a slew of veteran forwards who know how to push the puck across the goal line.
During their recent seven-game winless streak, the Sharks lost 1-0 to the Phoenix Coyotes in a shootout, 2-1 to the Nashville Predators in a shootout and 1-0 to the Predators in another shootout. These aren’t real losses. They’re ties that might actually be wins in the playoffs when overtime games are determined by sudden death.
But the team is mired in a scoring slump (10 goals in eight games), and this is rekindling the fire for a major trade. At this point, Boyle and Thornton are the names being tossed around, but parting ways with your top forward or defenseman seems a bit dramatic when you’re only six points out of first place in the Pacific Division. Is a blockbuster move really the solution?
Every good team goes through droughts — they’re just accentuated this season because of the reduced schedule. The front office made a conscious decision to focus on defense in the offseason and it seems premature to hit the panic switch after only 15 games, especially when you are keeping the puck out of your net.
The best move for the Sharks right now is to stay put and ride this thing out. They can always send in the wrecking ball in July.
Paul Gackle is a regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner and also writes at www.gacklereport.com. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.