The San Jose Sharks enter play this evening with 33 points in 28 games, good for second in the Pacific Division and No. 8 in the Western Conference. So, naturally, Coach Todd McLellan's job should be in jeopardy.
Uh say what now?
Such is life in the NHL during the 2011-12 season. It's a League in which coaches of teams failing to meet expectations get axed while Scott Arniel still has a job. If the Los Angeles Kings can fire Terry Murray and the Washington Capitals can fire Bruce Boudreau, the underwhelming and uninspired play of the Sharks this season might result in McLellan's ouster, right?
Wrong, said every player who was asked the question by the San Jose Mercury News:
Several of those players made it clear they have their coach's back, saying it's ridiculous that questions are being raised about McLellan's job security. "We are not anywhere near the same ballpark as other teams were that changed coaches," Ryane Clowe said. "We have complete faith in our staff. Guys want to play hard for Todd. We're prepared and ready. We don't get out-coached, that's for sure."
Added captain Joe Thornton: "I think that's unfair. It wouldn't make any sense at all, and you don't hear anything like that being talked about around here."
That "ballpark" Clowe is referencing is the one where players tune out their coach and/or just flat-out stop playing for him. No, the Sharks aren't anywhere near there: McLellan's popular amongst the players and last year's journey to the Western Conference Final reinforced their confidence in him.
But their underachievement has been chronic this season: Failing to play complete games, not getting star efforts from star players.
The core of this team — Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Martin Havlat, Dan Boyle and Brent Burns — does not alter games with its pace. And it's not about skating fast in a line we speak of here, but speed to pucks, getting to the best checking positions, simply getting to spots first. The Sharks do not appear to be forcing the issue as much as they are trying to slow the game to their liking.
And that, frankly, is not the way this team was supposed to operate. The Sharks at their best dominate their space by getting where they need to go before the other sweater and dictating from there. The Sharks as we see them play well enough in spurts and then hope for enough productivity in those spurts to pass it off as a good night's work.
The frustrating part about the Sharks is that a dominant team 5-on-5: They're a plus-15 at even strength, and their 37 goals allowed is third-best in the League. Alas, their penalty kill is among the worst in the League (74.4 percent).
Ratto wonders if the "maddeningly inconsistent" Sharks are "simply too old and slow" to attack opponents with speed. Tonight's game against the Colorado Avalanche opens a six-game homestand for San Jose; one suspects we'll learn a bit more about where this team is headed by the end of it.