The San Jose Sharks continued their up-and-down 2015-16 NHL season by losing their fifth game in a row Wednesday, Dec. 9. Before losing that game to their former coach’s new team, they lost to the other Pacific Division team in Alberta Tuesday.
The Sharks split the two games before that, but that is not much of a transitional period between a five-game losing streak and a six-game winning streak. Then again, that winning streak came on the heels of a 3-8-0 run that followed opening the 2015-16 NHL season with four wins.
The whole thing adds up to a team that is one point over .500 and has given up more goals than it has scored more than a third of the way into the 2015-16 NHL season. Wins against the bottom two teams in the Pacific Division could have given San Jose an end to a short losing streak for a team four points over .500 and nine wins in 13 games.
Instead, they are on a five-game slump two games longer than any previous to it on a streaky 2015-16 NHL season. In a typical glass-half-full/half-empty way, the Sharks got their first overtime loss—the positive being they earned a point in a loss and the negative that their 3-0 record with two of the prized “regulation/overtime wins” has its first blemish.
They were trailing before the first television timeout for the astounding 10th time in just 28 games of the 2015-16 NHL season. They scored just five goals against two questionable goalies, with Karri Ramo being the eighth such goalie to hold them below three goals and the 14th overall.
More importantly, this team cannot seem to overcome a major blue-line absence: San Jose is now winless in three games without Marc-Edouard Vlasic (0-2-1) as well as Paul Martin (0-3-0) while splitting two games without Justin Braun (1-1-0).
What happens if one of those three or Brent Burns—the most-essential player on the team right now, playing the most minutes and among the league leaders in shots and attempts—for any substantial portion of the 2015-16 NHL season? It could mean the Sharks miss the Stanley Cup playoffs again and that could end the tenure of general manager Doug Wilson.
That could start a domino effect, and everyone on the current payroll should be worried. A new front office usually means a new coaching staff. It could mean a new direction in net since the first year of Martin Jones will not look especially good with the kind of blue-line play we have seen whenever there is an absence from the top of the depth chart. It could mean cutting ties with veterans or asking them to take on new roles.
There is a tremendous amount of urgency and everyone should be in this together. There is little question San Jose has enough talent to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs if it stays healthy, but blue-line depth is not the only thing lacking.
The Sharks struggled mightily when losing Logan Couture for 23 games to a broken leg early in the 2015-16 NHL season. He left halfway through the Edmonton game with what head coach Peter DeBoer would only describe as a “lower-body injury” and thus fuel concerns it may have been related to that injury.
Once Melker Karlsson returned, San Jose eventually adjusted to Couture’s absence. However, even if Wednesday’s injury is not serious there are lingering problems with getting production from the depth forwards.
The goaltending unit is not immune to this problem, either. Alex Stalock has been great twice in relief of Jones but has had only two good starts among his six, and the Sharks will be in big trouble if he has to carry the load for long.
The more San Jose’s depth is tested, the longer and more frequent its losing streaks will be. Having more than Joonas Donskoi step up among the young players in all three units would make reaching the Stanley Cup playoffs much more likely.
The good news is that the Pacific Division is so pathetic so far this 2015-16 NHL season that a record better than only a dozen teams in the entire league is good for second place. With three guaranteed postseason spots, that means the Sharks currently hold a Stanley Cup playoff-berth.
The bad news is three teams right behind San Jose are surging: Edmonton is just two games back after its fourth consecutive win, half a game behind Calgary—winners of four in a row and 7-3-1 in its last 11—while the Anaheim Ducks now just a game back thanks to a 10-5-3 record after October.
The surprising Arizona Coyotes and mildly disappointing Vancouver Canucks are right with three-time defending Pacific Division champion Anaheim in the standings. Neither is trending positively but that could change since that has happened for both already during the 2015-16 NHL season.
The bottom line is no Pacific Division team has made it to the Stanley Cup playoffs without earning over 90 points in a full season following the one lost to the lockout that brought about three-point games. Only the Philadelphia Flyers have made it in with fewer than that mark with 86 in the 2009-10 NHL season.
The Sharks are currently on pace to earn a fraction under 85. That is not going to change unless this team can stay healthy or add at least blue-line help.