The pictured stars helped Carolina complete the sweep of the 2013-14 NHL season head-to-head. The question is whether they earned or were handed another win.
The evidence is strong. As of the start of the day's action, the only team at or below .500 outside the Pacific Division that San Jose has beaten is the Florida Panthers. Plain and simple, this team does not show up to play against those teams. If there is no rivalry or elite competition to get their juices up, they do not play a 60 minute game.
The Hurricanes are a bad team that came into the game at the end of a road trip on a five-game losing streak. The second-worst team in the historically-bad Metropolitan Division was four games out of a wild card berth for the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference.
The Sharks were running out of time to catch the Anaheim Ducks for the regular season Pacific Division crown, but that does not matter when a team is overconfident. There is no fear of losing to trigger the urgency.
Now the crown is frankly out of reach without a collapse by Anaheim. Even if San Jose got hot enough to win the Pacific Division without a collapse it would only mean peaking too soon.
The danger is that if the Sharks are locked into second place in the Pacific Division—they are even further ahead of the Los Angeles Kings than behind the Ducks—there is reason to suspect the "compete level" as coach Todd McLellan refers to it will drop even more. That could result in the team losing its edge.
McLellan has made a point of mentioning that playing for home-ice advantage in the Western Conference finals means something, too. His team is now a half-game behind the Central Division's third-place Chicago Blackhawks and second-place Colorado Avalanche (taking the only logical measure of point percentage—officially they are the other way around) for home-ice advantage.
Colorado would have to get past both Chicago and the St. Louis Blues, and that is just not realistic. The more of those teams San Jose can finish in front of the better the chance to reduce their already league-high travel and take advantage of their NHL-best home record since the end of the last lockout.
The team that wins the regular season Central Division crown would have the advantage of an easier opponent in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, and thus be the most likely team to reach the Western Conference finals. Thus, the Sharks have to finish ahead of all of them for to actually earn home-ice advantage beyond the first round.
That means San Jose has 19 games to get three more points than St. Louis gets in 21. The other two contenders in the Central Division would also have to be out-paced. If Chicago or Colorado were to earn first place, that would only mean another hill to climb.
Losing to lesser teams is a sign the Sharks are not buying into the importance of home-ice advantage. They did not play hard until the Hurricanes scored after registering 12 of the first 20 shots on 21 of the first 34 attempts. Worse, all three goals allowed were on sloppy defensive breakdowns.
The first was on the 12th shot allowed just 12:07 into the game. Jason Demers gave up the middle of the ice to Jiri Tlusty, who took the pass from Alexander Semin in for a backhand breakaway (John Michael-Liles got the secondary assist). It was a save Alex Stalock probably should have made, but also his only mistake.
San Jose answered 58 seconds later when Tyler Kennedy took the puck from Andrew Desjardins and flung it to the net from the boards. The rebound kicked right to Marty Havlat, whose dive got him to the puck before either the defender or goalie Anton Khudobin could react.
The Sharks took the lead with 28 seconds left before intermission thanks to a takeaway from Khudobin behind the net. James Sheppard got to the goalie more quickly than expected, gaining possession of the puck and pushing it to the slot through pressure. Raffi Torres gathered it in but was overextended for a shot, so he pushed it over to Brent Burns crashing down for a blast that hopefully shattered his slump—he had gone 19 games without a goal.
Carolina was able to tie the game up just 4:16 into the second period: Eric Staal held the puck behind the net until someone left Elias Lindholm uncovered driving into the slot for the one-timer goal, giving Andrej Sekera a secondary assist. San Jose woke up from there, out-shooting their guests 23-12 until the end of regulation, but could not get the lead back.
In overtime the Hurricanes were able to get the last four shots and six attempts. Lindholm made a good play to Jay Harrison pinching from the point on the weakside, and Stalock never had a chance.
If it had not been for showing up over 10 minutes late, the Sharks would not have gone to overtime. That is not the mark of a great team. Though they attempted 10 more shots, they only got two more on net and lost possession battles (20-32 faceoffs, 16-5 in giveaways and only 6-5 in takeaways) that could have helped them compensate for their defensive breakdowns.
Players that take shifts off or come without intensity or the understanding how critical every point is are not built to win the Stanley Cup. San Jose color commentator Drew Remenda used to ask, "Are you motivated or are you driven?" It is high time for this team to become the latter.