There are a number of ways to process Saturday’s Stadium Series game at the Pants Palladium between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks -– the spectacle, the crowd, the musical acts, the fireworks, the ease of parking in anywhere but the stadium. Take your pick.
But ultimately, most importantly, and for the locals most devastatingly, it was a crushing 2-1 defeat that not only dropped them back to the just-watching section of a three-way tie for seventh place in the Western Conference but brought their unique ability to disappoint to four times the audience.
Or, in the clip-and-save words of Tommy Wingels, one of the brighter spots in a dull-gray evening’s work, “We worked hard out there tonight, but you have to judge yourself on winning and losing, not playing hard.”
And therein lies the essence of this San Jose team -– regardless of the fluctuations in effort night in and night out, they’ve lost more games than they’ve won, and they have fewer games to save themselves than all but two teams in the West.
One is Winnipeg, which is currently secure in the first Wild-Card spot, and the other is Edmonton, even more secure in the DFL position. And if you have to ask what DFL stands for, you have lived a sheltered life indeed.
Saturday was the prototypical Sharks game –- let the opponent take the early initiative, which in this case meant a soft goal by Kings’ fourth-liner Kyle Clifford, scramble back to tie the game late in the first through Brent Burns, control the second period and then dissolve into the ether in the third.
In sum, they waited too long to start, didn’t get enough benefit from the part of the game they claimed as theirs, and paid for their waste by disappearing when it mattered most.
“I thought we had a lot of chances in the second,” Wingels, who assisted on the Burns goal, said, “but we couldn’t get very much going in the third. After the (Marian) Gaborik goal, we might have let down a little bit, and we didn’t have very many chances after that.”
This should come as no surprise, given that the Kings were the conference’s boa constrictor even before they became two-time Stanley Cup champions. They have learned over time to choke a game slowly but surely by doing more with their possessions and interrupting the opponents', and San Jose has known the breathing difficulties that causes all too well.
And on a night when they needed to make a big impression for 70,205 people, 53,000-some-odd who wouldn’t have been at the game had it been played at the SAP Center, they did. The same impression, it must be said, that they’ve been making all year in the 408 area code. They now have the eighth-worst home record in the league, and the seven teams behind them -– Dallas, Florida, Carolina, Columbus, Buffalo, Edmonton and Arizona -– are non-playoff teams as well, although Florida has benefited mightily from Boston’s six-game losing streak and now only one point out of eighth.
That, though, is Florida’s problem, and Boston’s as well.
The Sharks’ problem is that they have to repeat Wingels’ mantra far too often for a team that has its April pretensions. They need badly to finish in the first Wild Card spot (seventh) to have a prayer at advancement, since they have noteworthy ownage on Anaheim, which is locked into the two-seed. Against the other six playoff teams, they have nothing much to brag about.
And after Saturday night, they have even less. Their anemia at the start of the game speaks to an essential disconnect between them and their results, their improved second periods show that they can learn from their mistakes, and their third periods show that they don’t mind making them again. Now they have another 50,000 witnesses to attest to that fact.
Oh, and the rest of the night? People seemed pleased. The problem comes with the realization that there are no more outdoor games to divert the customers’ attention. The hard slog resumes Thursday against Detroit, and until they figure out how to handle not adversity but urgency, they will do this again and again, and not before 70,000 people, but sub-capacity crowds in their usual home.