The Pacific Division rival Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings continue their battle for a Western Conference finals berth Monday, May 12. Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks continue to examine what went wrong in yet another failed quest to earn the Stanley Cup.
Certainly a lot of it has to do with mentality. As covered by Examiner.com last week, the Sharks lose the goalie battle every year and a large part of that has to do with the skaters losing the battles in front of the net in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
They also lack killer instinct, edge and get comfortable enough to take shifts and even games off. Even coach Todd McLellan also had to admit they did not respond well to adversity, giving up two or three goals in succession (not counting empty-net tallies) over about three to six minute periods in all seven games.
As was covered here Saturday, the forwards that starred during the 2013-14 NHL season failed to come through when it mattered most. Those players should have been good enough to get San Jose over the top in one of the last four games, but once again did not come through.
That does not mean they got the support they needed. Sure, James Sheppard had two goals and four assists. He also was the worst defender on the team in a Pacific Division semifinals that saw the 25th-best scoring team in the 2013-14 NHL season put up two goals in every game and three in six of the seven against the fifth-ranked defensive team.
Some of that goes on the blue line. Some of that is the goalie. Some of that is the checking-line forwards, and some of that was because of injuries.
Raffi Torres was a point-per-game scorer through five games in the 2013-14 NHL season and the first two of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He had one assist the rest of the way, and CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz last week quoting the edgy forward as saying he was basically skating on one leg by the end of the Pacific Division semifinal series.
Not having the real Torres certainly hurt San Jose. However, the rest of the cast was in and out of the lineup. Matt Nieto spent much of the fall developing in the AHL and Sheppard lost 15 games presumably to not being trusted in the lineup. Andrew Desjardins was the only depth forward to not lose significant time to injury.
In total, the Sharks could not overcome nearly full seasons lost to forwards like Torres and Adam Burish. Neither was healthy in the Stanley Cup playoffs, either. Marty Havlat (as expected) and Tyler Kennedy missed significant time to injury among the role-playing forwards, while Logan Couture, Brent Burns and Tomas Hertl were scoring-line forwards who also missed a lot of games.
San Jose's remaining cast just did not have enough to overcome that. At the beginning of the Pacific Division semifinals, it looked like superior depth forwards would be the difference. In the end, Los Angeles won the battle of checking lines.
That should be no surprise since many of those Sharks had been scratched because they were simply not good enough during the 2013-14 NHL season. Tommy Wingels was originally cast for a checking-line role but played mostly on the second line because the Sharks failed to find that other scoring-line forward in either Kennedy or (again) Havlat.
Whatever the reason, both the Kings and Ducks got more out of their depth forwards during the 2013-14 NHL season and when it counted in the Stanley Cup playoffs. (Kurz also noted the importance of goalies in that Pacific Division finals after it was tied up Saturday.)
Many others fought for ice time until San Jose had seven forwards out going into the break for the Sochi Olympics. However, six of the players saw action in at least 48 games in the regular season, with five of them also playing in the 2014 Pacific Division semifinals.
To divide players into comparable roles, those six are examined here (working down from the highest grade outlined in previous Examiner analyses) as depth forwards, with goals (G), assists (A), plus-minus, penalties in minutes (PIM), game-winning goals (GW) if there are any, hits (h), blocked shots (bs), giveaways (gv), takeaways (tk) and faceoff percentage (F%), as well as offensive (OQ), defensive (DQ) and total (TQ) quotients. The rest will be covered next as reserves.