When the San Jose Sharks and the Chicago Blackhawks met for the first time this season, both clubs were riding high. San Jose was 7-1-1. Chicago was 7-0-2.
The Blackhawks would eventually earn the victory thanks to Patrick Kane, who scored the game-winner partway through the second, then iced the contest with an empty-netter. But until the final buzzer, victory was never assured. It was a clash of the Western Conference's top two teams and it looked like a clash of the top two teams, especially in a dizzying first period that saw both sides score three times apiece.
Flash forward. The Sharks and Blackhawks met for the second time this year 10 days later, on Friday night. By then, things had changed completely.
Rather than hitting the ice fresh off a seven-game win streak, the Sharks came into Chicago desperate to end a six-game losing streak, punctuated by an embarrassing 6-2 loss to Columbus. They were unsuccessful, and it wasn't particularly close. The game was anything but a reprise of the battle of elites we had seen on February 5. Instead, it was another embarrassing loss.
The Sharks were nails two weeks ago. This time around, they got hammered, and just like that, they had managed to follow up their seven-game win streak with a seven-game losing streak.
The frustration and bewilderment in that locker room was evident after the game. Todd McLellan didn't seem to have any idea what sort of team he had anymore. From CSN Bay Area:
“It’s amazing what’s happened in 15 days,” said Todd McLellan, referring to the Sharks’ last victory on Jan. 31. “It doesn’t even look like the same team. Not even remotely close. Are we going to rely on what we saw early in the year and the performances that we were receiving, or are we going to take the [last] seven games and evaluate on that? I guess we have to make those decisions.”
It's a good question. After 14 games, who are the San Jose Sharks?
Are they a good team or not? Was January a misleading hot streak from a mid-level team, or has February just been a cold streak from an elite team?
Can they score goals? San Jose scored 23 in their first 5 contests. Patrick Marleau had 9, for goodness' sake. The Sharks were a treat to watch. But they've scored 12 in their last 9, only one of which belonged to Mr. Marleau. They've been decidedly less treat-like during this stretch.
What about goal prevention? Is Antti Niemi this guy?
Or is he this guy?
Man, that's terrible.
Maybe the Sharks are just getting their inconsistency in seven-game series out of the way now, before the playoffs begin. Or maybe, a year after they just barely squeaked into the postseason, only to be ousted easily in the first-round, this group really isn't a playoff team.
Kevin Kurz, who wrote the article quoted above, points out that the Sharks' last losing streak of this magnitude resulted in the advent of the Joe Thornton era in San Jose. Is it time for a shakeup that drastic? "With just one game in the next six days, now could be the time to alter the team - perhaps dramatically," Kurz writes.
Or would it? The Sharks have three more games on a six-game road swing, the second of which is against the Chicago Blackhawks. It's still possible for them to settle down, settle in, pull a .500 record out of this trip and exact some revenge on the Blackhawks and a measure of closure in the process. It might be best to wait out the rest of the trip before making any decisions.
But this is the issue the Sharks face. We're over a quarter of the way into the shortened season, and while most other teams have something of a handle on who they are, how they play and what they might need, the Sharks simply don't. They're a complete enigma, two different teams that have both shown up enough times to make a case that they're the real San Jose.
And they can't really afford to wait for a larger sample size. Again, the season's 25% over. There's little time for an existential crisis. The Sharks need to decide who they are and they need to decide in a hurry.
Follow Harrison Mooney on Twitter at @HarrisonMooney