Saturday, April 10, 2010

Put up or shut up time for playoff-bound Sharks

It was Fan Appreciation Night at the San Jose Arena on Saturday so it’s time to show the Sharks some love.
After a devastating and embarrassing first-round playoff series loss to the eighth-seeded Anaheim Ducks last year, the Sharks could have had the motivation and drive sucked out of them. They could have skated through this season like they were entitled to get home ice advantage for the Stanley Cup. They could have been gone through the motions with their talent and still made the playoffs.
Instead, they rose again and met expectations this season. Oh, they didn’t win the Presidents’ Trophy, which was a curse last season. But they won the Pacific Division again and they played well enough to win the Vice Presidents’ Trophy, if there were such a thing.
Now comes their albatross – the playoffs. Expectations for that are hitting the roof in the Shark Tank. Anything less than reaching the Western Conference finals will be not be tolerated. It’s June or swoon.
What must the Sharks change or do different to get the proverbial King Kong off their backs?
First, they must dramatically improve their special teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs. This regular season, the Sharks had a power play percentage of 18.2 percent. Not bad.
However, in their last three postseasons, the Sharks have converted only 9.6 percent of their power play chances. That’s just 16 goals in 137 opportunities. That’s not poor. That’s putrid.
The other must-go for the Sharks is that goaltender Evgeni Nabokov must stand on his head, hockey lingo for make improbable saves that can turn a game and a series. Nabokov is an exceptional goalie but, in the playoffs, he has not elevated his play to stand-on-your-head status. The recent great playoff goaltenders – Martin Brodeau, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour -- sharpened their focus when their teams needed them most.
In fairness to Nabokov, the defensemen in front of him have not been a model of consistency. The Sharks’ third-set of blueliners for the playoffs likely will be Kent Huskins and either rookie Jason Demers or Niclas Wallin, none of whom are playoff dependable.
Basically, the Sharks must raise their level of play in the playoffs. You know it. They know it. No more excuses.
“We will turn it up a notch next week (in the playoffs),” Sharks captain Rob Blake told Sharks fans Saturday night following the team’s shootout win over the Phoenix Coyotes. “We expect you to do the same.”


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