Generally NHL teams are judged by seasons, not calendar years. However, with the lockout delaying last season's start until January and the current Christmas break coming near the mid-point of the 2013-14 NHL season, it makes sense to examine what 2013 has been like for the San Jose Sharks.
Right now, they are in the third spot in the Pacific Division and face the prospect of having to win at least one game in Southern California. The pictured issues still linger for this team, but the biggest one is the inconsistency that has plagued this team since Doug Wilson has been the general manager.
In 2003-04, the Sharks were 1-5-4-0 in October (the last season the NHL had ties) and had just three wins in their first 19 games (3-6-8-2). Then they went 7-0-1-0 to climb back into contention and had three more streaks of five-plus games unbeaten over the remainder of the season to finish with the second seed in the Western Conference.
In every season since, San Jose has had at least one five-game winning streak and at least one losing streak just as long except in 2008-09. In that season, they won the President's Trophy but still managed to lose four in a row at one point.
That by itself is not a big deal. The last time a Stanley Cup champion did not lose at least four in a row was before several current Sharks were born. However, teams that need them to even make the playoffs are in trouble.
San Jose has been saved by a late hot streak to make the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. This only one sign of the problem getting worse—it is more disturbing that the streaks have been getting shorter.
It only takes a four-game slump to be eliminated. The Sharks have already had two losing streaks that long this season.
Meanwhile, it takes 16 wins to be crowned champions. Every Stanley Cup champion since the 1988 Edmonton Oilers has required at least 20 games to win it all. The last team to need that few before the Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Kings did it in 2012 was the 1997 Detroit Red Wings.
That is why San Jose's winning streaks of seven, seven, six and six so far in 2013 have not been enough. All four times, this team looked almost unbeatable yet every one has been followed or preceded by a minimum four-game losing streak.
The way the Western Conference is playing out this season, any hot streak might have to start during the regular season to once again get the team into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Even if the Sharks do not need to start such a streak to get in, they would almost certainly concede home ice in every round.
In reality, it does not matter if the Sharks win the Pacific Division title before getting hot for a Stanley Cup run. They have been unable to win 16 games against some non-playoff teams without losing four in a row—enough to end their playoffs.
Losing happens to the best teams. Losing streaks of more than three games happen because teams leave points on the table. Until San Jose stops doing that, any review has to recognize that hot-and-cold adds up to lukewarm.