San Jose Sharks @ Toronto Maple Leafs
Air Canada Centre; Toronto, ON
7:30 p.m. ET; TSN4: The Quattro
SBN Opposition Blogs (Yes, There's Two): Battle of California; Fear the
If you were to just look at the Leafs recent record as a standalone thing, you probably wouldn't be all that impressed. They've gone 1-3-1, and have dropped games to teams such as the Canucks, Avalanche, and Flames that you really expect they should be able to beat. On the surface, the Leafs don't look so good lately.
This is where the distinction between process and results gets a bit tricky, because the two haven't been the same. In fact, they've been weirdly the opposite. Subtracting a 3-0 loss to the Flames (in which goaltending put the Leafs down 2-0 in the first minute, and score effects likely dictated the play as much as anything), the Leafs have been more unlucky than bad. In the three losses since, their losses have gone as follows:
- 3-2 shootout loss to the Canucks; Ryan Miller stopped 38 of 40 shots.
- 3-2 loss to the Wild; Devan Dubnyk stopped 35 of 37 shots.
- 3-1 loss to the Avalanche; Semyon Varlamov stopped 51(!) of 52 (!!!) shots.
For those of you keeping score, that's 124 saves on 129 shots across those three games, or a save percentage totalling .961. Granted, in at least the case of the Canucks and Wild games (the Leafs trailed by two goals, which is when their possession numbers really got better), you could make the argument score effects helped the Leafs turn on the jets. Nonetheless, putting 129 shots (or 43 per game) but facing .961 goaltending is just piss poor luck. If the Leafs faced goaltending in those games that was merely average, or perhaps merely above average, or even anything short of 1999 Dominik Hasek being controlled by magical angels, they'd have received a better fate.
That said, luck goes both ways, and the Leafs won one game in there that you could argue was their least deserving to win. They put three goals past Tuukka Rask on 19 shots, which has been an extremely rare occurrence this season. They were outshot 33-20, looked completely lost in the 1st period, and were overall extremely lucky to escape that period tied 0-0. And they still won.
Hockey is a random and weird sport, but it's fairly "even Steven" as sports go. Weird luck generally evens out over time. The Leafs will eventually win one of those dominant games because goaltenders just won't keep stonewalling them forever. A lacking performance against a team against the Bruins will also come back and bite them. But, the good news is the "opposite day" effect where they lose the games they play well and win the ones they play subpar will even out. If they continue to rack up the shots, the win column will fatten up eventually.
The Sharks are coming off of a Saturday night win against the Carolina Hurricanes in which the most memorable thing was that made us all want to gouge our eyes out and then dump a bottle of Clorox into the exposed sockets.
The Sharks' win stalled a two-game losing skid, which itself followed a hot streak in which the Sharks won six of seven games. In the past three weeks, the Sharks have lost just three games, two of which were one-goal decisions to the Anaheim Ducks. Martin Jones is expected to start, and he has a .920 SV% this season. Needless to say, they'll be a difficult opponent.
Now that we've got that blurb out of the way, let's get to the fun stuff.
You see, I tried valiantly to do a 30-team "Why Your Team Sucks" preview this offseason. I got two-thirds of the way through before life got in the way and prevented me from having the time to commit to it. After all, this blog only pays me in stickers and free book previews, so it isn't as I can devote all of my time and energy to such an expansive project.
The result of this is that ten teams went unfortunately unscathed, but none was likely more deserving of roasting than this one. For you see, there is no fanbase more deserving of being knocked off its peg and down to earth than the San Jose Sharks.
Sharks fans want to have it both ways. They want to be the lovable underdogs who never win anything and parlay their newfound success of exactly one season of being the runner-up into acting like hockey's answer to the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately for them, the latter dictates you have to win something first. Also, you need to accumulate a 3-1 series lead in order to blow it.
But what exactly did they accomplish? They skated through the Western Conference when doing so was the easiest it's ever been. The powerhouse Blackhawks and division-winning Ducks lost their first round series in close Game 7s. The Sharks drew a Kings team in the first round that, while usually potent, was missing enough bodies that their bottom four basically contained the winner of a fan vote, a ficus plant, the toothless kid from Stranger Things and Rob Scuderi. From there, they basically needed to beat woefully flawed teams in Nashville and St. Louis to make it to the Cup Final. Then, predictably, a very good team that had to beat other very good teams to get that far caved their faces in. So it goes.
The common refrain from the Sharks fanbase is often how "lovable" they are. I'm pretty sure it's California state law that you cannot have a conversation about sports within a 5 km radius of a Sharks fan without them chiming in about how great that "Holiday Sweater" song was. Granted, it's easy to delude yourself into your own likeability when the only other hockey fans within driving distance are the celebrities and convicted felons that make up the Kings fanbase and the anti-vaxxing soccer mom Trump supporters and the white-collar husbands they cheat on that make up the Ducks fanbase. That said, the logic of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" aligns well-meaning people with some shady allegiances, such as Saddam Hussein throughout the 1980s, or the Boston Bruins in 2011.
The thing about the Sharks is most accounts of their likeability come from their own fans. That's like being the coolest kid in your high school class, according to your mom. As Occam's Razor might dictate, if you have to keep telling the hockey world how likeable you are, you're probably not all that likeable. Here, I'm now expecting Sharks fans to chime in as follows:
"But, two of our best players have really cool beards!" Wow, you have two players that look like ZZ Top castoffs whose prophecy was foretold by Mugatu's Derelicte collection. I'm not sure what about your star players looking like those scruffy men who roam about downtown plucking empty bottles into old Loblaws carts is exactly likeable, but okey dokey.
"But one of our bearded men likes to eat pizza postgame!" Neat. You know who else enjoys pizza? Oh, pretty much EVERYONE ON THE ENTIRE PLANET EVER. The millionaire hockey man is just like you! How relatable!
"Joe Pavelski is Captain America!" Real Captain Americas (or is it Captains America?) do not go 0-3 at international tournaments. It is because of his poor leadership that America will look Auston Matthews to right the ship.
"Patrick Marleau!" Okay, fine; you won that round.
But really, the worst thing about the Sharks is their need to be loved by everyone really just hides a deep-seeded inferiority complex. Despite residing in the 6th largest television market in the United States, they see themselves as the California equivalent of the Ottawa Senators. They see themselves as the heroic protagonists to the evil Los Angeles despite the fact they live in a place made hilariously unaffordable and unliveable by tech millionaires. They mock the affluent, airheaded Southern California horde and fail to understand the irony of that when complaining about the price of playoff tickets in a market driven by said tech millionaires. Best of all, they mock the celebrities that reside among the rival Kings fanbase while trotting out such "lovable" characters as Metallica and Condoleeza Rice.
You might notice I mention LA a lot. It's because the identity of this franchise's entire existence is tied up into being "Not LA." Their most prominent chant is literally the words "Beat LA," and they can't even get that on key. They have spent the past six months holding up their second place finish as some kind of championship belt against their rivals who have won two Cups in the preceding five years. Lovable indeed!
Oh, and their Twitter account sounds like it's run by a moody teenager.
It'll be Frederik Andersen against Martin Jones in net. No expected lineup changes for the Leafs; Martin Marincin is likely still injured, and Frank Corrado is likely still banished to Narnia. Roman Polak will play his first game against his former team, which I included just to remind you the Sharks once traded an actual draft pick for Polak. On the other hand, the Leafs went and re-signed him, so which is worse?