The San Jose Sharks began Monday, February 4 having the best record in the NHL. After losing for the third time since to the Chicago Blackhawks Friday, February 22, they are at real risk for falling from the top spot to out of the playoff picture in three weeks.
Chicago came in to that first meeting Tuesday, February 5 having gained the top spot in the NHL when San Jose lost their first regulation game at the Pacific Division rival Anaheim Ducks the previous night. They ended this Friday night with an NHL record for consecutive games without a regulation loss to start the season at 17.
The Sharks got off to a strong start, delivering hits and being rewarded when Patrick Marleau's rebound shot trickled past Ray Emery in the final 15 seconds of the first period. But despite two second-period power plays, they had only mustered 14 shots through 40 minutes. Thus it was no surprise they coughed up that lead in the final minutes of the second, even if it was on an unusual redirection.
The Sharks had a chance to reclaim the lead when top defenseman Brent Seabrook took a penalty. One score could break a slump of two power play goals in 44 chances and put the Sharks in position to end their Western Conference rival's bid for the NHL record.
Instead, one shorthanded goal put the Sharks in a hole their current offense is unable to overcome. They finally used their next power play to shoot—helping them to reach 13 for the final stanza—but still came up empty.
The once-deadly unit has become a joke, with only one more score than they have yielded in their last 46 chances. Emery gave up rebounds, but even with an extra man on the ice San Jose could not get to loose pucks as often as Chicago. When they did, they rarely put the puck immediately back on net. Taking time to set up your offense only allows time for the opposition to set up their defense.
The Sharks struggled again on draws, losing six more than they won against an inferior team in the circle. Compounding the problem, they were just as short of their foes in turnovers. Giving up 12 possessions should have meant more opportunities for hits and blocked shots, yet they also fell two short of a faster, more talented team in each stat.
If Chicago can beat San Jose in every phase of the game three times in a month, that has to shake a team to its core. Either they are not playing hard enough or they are simply not good enough, and neither is acceptable given the urgency of the losing streak in a condensed season as their window to win a Stanley Cup is closing.
The Sharks must bounce back with a win over the mediocre Pacific Division rival Dallas Stars at 5:00 p.m. Saturday, February 23. If they cannot beat this team now, there is no reason to wait to trade away talent that cannot or will not win in May.