The San Jose Sharks' playoff hopes took a huge hit this week with 3-1 and 2-0 losses to the Anaheim Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes, respectively. At the time of this writing, the Sharks sit 9th in the Western Conference, and it will take losses by the teams ahead of them in order for San Jose to finish the season in the top 8.
Now, it isn't quite as dire as it sounds. With home-and-home sets versus the Dallas Stars and the Kings to close out the year, the Sharks still control their own destiny. Still, like Dante in Clerks, they're not supposed to be here today. The Sharks were expected be better than this. What's going on?
Is it desire? At this time of the year, when you're where the Sharks are and you only manage to score one goal in back-to-back divisional losses, someone is going to question your want. In this case, that someone was Ray Ratto, in a passionate and frustrated indictment of the Sharks' play that drew an equally passionate and frustrated rebuke from Drew Remenda.
Okay, I don't want Remenda to yell at me, so I'm going to say the Sharks' scoring problems this week were not a problem of desire. But neither were they just an issue of running into teams that have their number, as he suggests.
The problem, as I see it, is the Sharks simply aren't that good at scoring anymore.
The 3-1 and 2-0 losses to the Ducks and Coyotes, respectively, are a good indicator of where things have gone wrong this season: While the Sharks lost both games by two goals, for all intents and purposes, they were one-goal games. The Ducks doubled their margin of victory with an empty-netter, and the Coyotes stretched their lead to two midway through the third. For long stretches, the Sharks just needed one goal to change the complexion of the game.
But the Sharks have been struggling all year long to get that goal. They have a 20-13-10 record in one-goal games, a .465 win percentage in these situations that's good for 21st in the league.
This wasn't an issue last year. In 2010-11, the Sharks were 21-9-9 in one goal games, meaning they won more of them and they played fewer.
They were simply a better goal-scoring team then. The Sharks scored 243 goals last season, an average of 2.96 per game. In 2011-12, they're averaging 2.60, and on pace for only 213.
That's a dropoff of 30 goals, a number that looms large when you realize only the LA Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets have lost more one-goal games in regulation.
Suddenly, the 48 goals that went out the door with the trades of Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley loom large. Martin Havlat and Brent Burns, the pieces that came back in those separate trades with the Minnesota Wild, have 17 goals between them. That's 31 goals unaccounted for, comfortably in line with that 30-goal regression.
Worse, while the trade was supposed to make the Sharks better defensively with the acquisition of top-flight blueliner Brent Burns, it really hasn't. The Sharks average 2.51 goals against per game, only a marginal improvement on last season's 2.54.
Defensively, they're about on par with last year's team. And they score less.
So is it really as simple as a series of trades that cost the Sharks 30 goals?
Yes and no. Last season, the Sharks had seven 20-goal scorers. This year, they could finish with as few as 3, with Heatley and Setoguchi gone, and Joe Thornton and Ryane Clowe taking steps backwards as well.
And that's the real problem here: it's not just that Heatley and Setoguchi are elsewhere -- it's that, without them, the Sharks are no longer a team with incredible forward depth, a trait that was a large part of their identity last season. Suddenly, the lineup isn't laden with guys that can get that all-important goal in tight games, and while Sharks fans know exactly who the big goals are going to come from if they do come, so does the opposition.
With fewer options, the Sharks have become an easier team to defend, and suddenly, one of the NHL's most offensively-talented teams in past seasons finds themselves wondering where the goals are going to come from down the stretch.