For the San Jose Sharks Game 5 could be the stage for two very different narratives. In the first, is a team that is stronger than previous iterations of Doug Wilson’s vision for San Jose. The second possibility is far worse: was this year another season wasted for an aging Sharks core.
General Manager Doug Wilson has done his part. The signing of Paul Martin to provide a steady presence with All-star defenseman Brent Burns has returned brilliant results. Joel Ward’s signing also has provided additional secondary scoring, something the Sharks have struggled with over the last few seasons. The three Toronto Maple Leafs all have paid dividends to various degrees to provide depth to the Sharks roster.
The Sharks will need to find a way to kickstart Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. The two have been part of the core since Thornton joined the Sharks. Thornton did not have his best game in Game 4, but the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a season in their own right and for a 36-year-old center, off games will happen. More concerning is the continuing lack of production from Patrick Marleau.
Marleau did score the Sharks only goal in the Game 3 loss, a goal that reminded some of the vintage Patrick. However, it was a lucky goal buoyed by Rinne’s mistimed charge at the puck. The goal was more of a flash in the pan, despite the Sharks need for goal scoring. Marleau has scored only three even strength goals ( including his Game 3 gaffe goal) since January 1, 2016. The Sharks have needed the Sharks career leader in games played to step up his game since the start of the calendar year. To believe somehow a long dormant switch can be flipped is unrealistic at this point.
Candidates to step into the sizable void left by Marleau’s lack out output are limited. Joonas Donskoi is perhaps a more realistic choice to aid the San Jose attack. Donskoi told CSNBayArea.com Insider Kevin Kurz that he was disappointed with his personal performance in Game 3 and was noticeably more engaged in play in Game 4. Some additional offense by the Sharks Rookie of the Year would be a big piece of the missing Marleau scoring.
Defensively the Sharks could shore up play as well. Marc-Edouard Vlasic had one of the rougher games in recent memory.
What is up with Vlasic this game?
— Ian Reid (@IReidPucknology) May 6, 2016
Vlasic’s status as the Sharks top defender is unquestioned, but Justin Braun was forced to bail out his long time partner more often than usual. The pairing of Braun and Vlasic is the Sharks best, but it has historically operated like a finely tuned duo working in concert, almost entirely different from the Brent Burns/Paul Martin pairing. Most telling of all was the minimal deployment of Brendan Dillon (13 shifts) and Roman Polak (16 shifts) during the overtime periods according to War-on-Ice.com. With the additional pressure placed on the Sharks top-four defenders, everyone must be playing their role and at a very high level.
Heading into Game 5, the Predators have squarely placed all the pressure on the San Jose Sharks. However with a Sharks win the pressure will at least be shared with the Predators as the series shifts back to Nashville for Game 6. San Jose, a team, chosen by many to have a very clear path to the Stanley Cup Finals, now find themselves in a battle that will define their 2015-16 season. Were this year’s San Jose Sharks is just another fragile squad that is content with a playoff appearance? Or will Game 5 be the point when the killer instinct kicked in, and the Sharks talented depth pressed its will upon the series? We’ll find out soon enough.