Ok, so maybe the game itself, when applied topically, won't clog your pores, but the stress caused by watching it may lead to break outs. You may get a rash from the topical application of hockey to the skin though, so, do be careful. Random bruising has also been known to occur.
So here we are in the midst of the worst losing streak since 1997 and people are calling for Joe Thornton's curly haired head. I can hear Patrick Marleau sighing in relief as this year, it's someone else getting thrown under the bus. That is not to say the anger or frustration on the fan side isn't justified, it is, but I'm not entirely certain it's correctly directed.
When you've dropped 5 games in on the road a row like the Sharks have, (6 overall including a home loss), and you drop one of those games 5-1 to the league's worst team while making them look skillful is a feat worthy of extraordinary ire. I'm pretty good at riding these waves in a mostly positive manner, but even I'm annoyed at this point. (I realize some people see that positivity* as asinine, but it's so easy to be an angry fan, I feel like there needs to be a strong counter voice. It's not that I feel it's all sunshine, happiness and rainbows, I just don't find that raging over terrible games benefits me emotionally. So, I don't do it anymore.) The Sharks as a whole, as a team, are terrible. Just terrible and playing horrible no good very bad games. There is no way around it. It's puzzling, considering the sheer skill this team possesses, but it's a reality nonetheless. I gave this some thought on Saturday night as I watched the Sharks new ECHL affiliate, the Stockton Thunder, zip around the ice at their home arena.
They may only be a AA team, but you could tell these guys were confident. They trusted each other. They trusted their teammates to be where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be, an they played with confidence because of that. They dominated the first, dictating the play, keeping the puck in the offensive zone, with crisp, smart passes and good communication. (At least when the Storm Team people weren't down cheering near the glass. That apparently makes it hard for the players to hear each other.) Even when they came out with a less dominate period in the second, they didn't give up. They fought for the rest of the game and came back from a tie to score the game winner in regulation.
They were also willing to throw themselves around, making big hits and blocking shots as needed. There was more urgency in their game. An obvious desire to win. Even when the game was tied 3-3, they didn't stop playing, they just kept right on going for the win.
It's that trust the Sharks are missing. Trust in themselves, trust in each other, trust in the coaches, trust in the system. So how do they fix that? How can you return a team to winning form when they don't trust themselves to be able to play well enough to win? That lack of trust is negatively affecting the Sharks overall play. They aren't going to the net, they aren't hitting anyone (well, ignoring the fights, which I'll get to later), and they aren't playing with that winning edge.
Blaming one player isn't the answer. Nabby, Joe, Clowe, pick your player, they've probably been blamed. They all share an equal part of the blame, with no one player above or below any other.
Joe obviously gets to shoulder a large share of the blame because he's not only a leader on the team, he's the defacto star of the Sharks. He sets the mood and pace for the team, and when fans think he's underperforming they let him have it. Part of this plays into his reputation as a failure when it counts, but I feel like that conveniently ignores all the times he succeeded at critical moments. It's true that as a leader he has a responsibility to help get his guys going, and as Jamie Baker pointed out last night, right now he looks like he doesn't even want to be there. I can't blame him. But if he was still smiling and happy on the bench, people would blast him for not taking the situation seriously enough. He's clearly emotionally involved if these past few games have managed to wipe the smile of his face. I have rarely seen Joe Thornton NOT SMILE. He smiles all the damn time. he's upset folks, he's just not as vocal about it as say, Dan Boyle.
Which is why, despite having a hand in his own turnovers leading to goals Boyle get less of the fan's blame than Thornton. Boyle is publicly angry and disappointed in his team's play. He's not hiding behind that wall that so many pro athletes put up to protect themselves from having their comments taken out of context. He says what he thinks, and we love him for it. But he's still out there making mistakes with the rest of his team every night. He maybe vocal but he's not without blame.
The oft maligned Ryane Clowe has been doing his part to get the team rolling again. Not only is he scoring goals but he's willing to drp the gloves and fight to try and re energize his team. So far it hasn't worked, but as someone who's been behind Clowe all season, it's nice to see him doing well.
Staubitz has been dropping the gloves as well, and while neither man has been able to successfully translate a fight into a scoring binge for the Sharks, they're at least proving one things; they're angry.
This ill timed slump, while not the season's first, is causing fans and the media to draw parallels between this season and last season. Last season the slump was due to injuries. This season we don't know. That's what makes it so frustrating, it shouldn't be possible for this type of play to continue, at least not on paper. But, here we are. The coaching staff needs to really sit down and figure out how to modify their style to fit this current conundrum. Line shuffling isn't working, though I don't fault them for trying. Sticking with prove lines and defensive pairs isn't working. Pulling Nabby isn't working. Playing Greiss isn't working. Maybe it's time to simplify. Boil the game down it it's essentials and work up from there. Work to restore the trust this team used to have in each other. It's only then that the Sharks will start to dig themselves out of this hole.