The San Jose Sharks are running out of excuses after being shut down by Karri Ramos in their visit with the Calgary Flames Thursday, January 30. Yet he only leads the pictured stars in attaining a one-sided win.
When Jonathan Quick had a shutout against the Sharks Monday, there was hardly cause for alarm. After all, he is Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings are a great defensive team.
Even being shutout by Ben Scrivens Wednesday could be explained away. Great goalies eventually burst onto the scene and steal games against teams that play well, and early indications are he is a legitimate talent in net.
Scrivens was unable to show how good he was while stuck behind Quick in Los Angeles. He has a chance to prove himself with the Edmonton Oilers, and has the best save percentage in the league among goalies with at least 1200 minutes. His win over San Jose was probably the best performance in NHL history, with several highlight-reel saves among his record 59 in a shutout.
However, the Sharks were playing Ramo's Flames Thursday. He came in with a save percentage below .905 and was allowing more than 2.75 goals per game, placing him in the bottom 30 percent of primary starters (defined as the goalie appearing in the most games for his team).
He also has little support from defenders that give up over three goals per game overall—better than just two NHL teams, one of whom is the Oilers mostly because they did not have Scrivens. The other is the New York Islanders, who have also been without their starter, former Shark Evgeni Nabokov.
A team that cannot score on that pathetic defense is in trouble, but worse yet San Jose was outplayed. Calgary won seven more faceoffs (38-31) and still had only an equal number of turnovers (6-5 giveaways and 4-3 takeaways) while attempting the same number of shots (52) and getting two more through thanks in part to one more block (13-12) and hit (19-18).
The only excuse left for one goal in three games is one you will never hear out of San Jose—injuries are killing this team. There is plenty of depth capable of filling the fourth line, but some of it is being used on the third. The opposition has been able to clamp down on the top two lines because there is nothing else to worry about.
Moreover, the scoring lines are also depleted. Adding Joe Pavelski to the first line makes it better than it was with Tomas Hertl, but the injury to Logan Couture leaves Patrick Marleau as the only true scoring forward not on the first line. That is huge because they are likely to face either a top blue-line pair or the best checking line.
Right now teams can just focus on Pavelski, who has 10 of the last 23 San Jose goals. Joe Thornton does not shoot and Brent Burns is getting his stick tied and having the puck skip over it, hitting posts, missing the net or shooting it right into an opponent (no goals, four assists) over his last 12 games.
Career minor-league forward Bracken Kearns has been getting more chances than anyone in these last three games and the only goal was the first in the NHL career of Eriah Hayes. There are just not enough elite forwards to occupy defenders, and not enough scoring prowess among supporting Sharks.
There is hope that either Couture or Raffi Torres could return before the break for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Unfortunately, it would come too late to fend off the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday—a team with checking-line depth and elite blue-line pairs.
However, Chicago does rank just 15th in goals-against average. The three teams San Jose faces after that all rank even lower defensively and have records that do not project to making the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. All four games are at home, where the best team in the NHL over the last two seasons with an .816 point percentage also has a 5-0 record in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Sharks most likely need to get six of the eight points left before the Winter Olympics to stay more than three games ahead of the Kings for second place in the Pacific Division and home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. All eight points might keep the division crown within reach if the Anaheim Ducks help out with a loss or two.
The time after the break does not look so bleak: Couture and Torres will be back and so may Adam Burish. Tomas Hertl might not be far behind and even accounting for new injuries there should be a net gain of talent before the season ends.
In the meantime, San Jose must learn how to either score more goals or win games 2-1.