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Sharks new reality is not a pretty picture

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			Sharks new reality is not a pretty picture

SAN JOSE — For about eight-and-a-half minutes Tuesday night, life without Joe Thornton and Logan Couture didn’t look so bad. After that, reality set in: without their top two centers, the Sharks are going to struggle to earn points, even against the worst teams in the NHL.

Their 3-1 victory over Vancouver at the SAP Center provided a snapshot of just how challenging it is going to be for the Sharks to find their form before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin next week. After they outshot the Canucks 10-1 in the game’s first 8:42, and set a new franchise record by scoring a pair of goals in the opening 30 seconds, the Sharks spent the remainder of the game on their heels.

According to captain Joe Pavelski, the problem was that the Sharks took their, “foot off the gas,” and they don’t have enough of the team playing consistent hockey right now.

“If you look back at last year’s team, we had guys playing at the top of their game. It wasn’t one, two, three guys — it was everybody,” he said. “Right now, we’re kind on that edge where we get guys on top of their games one night and then off, so we need to elevate our game as a group.”

Head coach Pete DeBoer expressed disappointment that his team’s supporting cast didn’t step into the bright lights and fill the hole left by Thornton and Couture on Tuesday.

“There was opportunity for some other guys to come in here and really show they could help us fill that void and I thought a lot of guys didn’t seize that opportunity tonight,” he said.

Pavelski and DeBoer are both right, but only to an extent. The Sharks probably should have been able to sustain their early momentum against a Vancouver team that’s ranked 29th in goals per game (2.16), 29th in shots per game (27.8), 24th in goals-against average (2.90), 29th on the power play (13.6 percent), 26th on the penalty kill (77.5 percent) and 26th in shot attempts percentage (47.97).

And with two key figures out of the lineup, the team’s depth players should have been buzzing. It isn’t uncommon to see NHL teams absorb major losses on a short-term basis because the group is amped to prove they can win without their superstars and role players want to show they’re worthy of taking on bigger responsibilities.

The Sharks played with that intensity through the first few line cycles, but the Canucks outshot them 33-15 after the 8:42 mark.

The truth of the matter is, although Pavelski and DeBoer would like to see stepped up efforts right now, the Sharks just aren’t a playoff team without their top two centers. It also doesn’t help that the team was treading water before either player stepped foot in a hospital last week.

Let’s face it, the team DeBoer sent out Tuesday with Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney down the middle wouldn’t be that much better than the Canucks on most nights, and if they iced this lineup over an 82-game season, they’d probably be near the bottom of the league in almost every statistical category, too.

This isn’t a cheap shot at the Sharks or the band surrounding Thornton and Couture. The reality is that every playoff team would be crippled if they lost their top two centers.

Would the Anaheim Ducks be a division contender without Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler? Where would the Edmonton Oilers be this season without Connor McDavid, let alone Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Could the Pittsburgh Penguins possibly contend for a Stanley Cup without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin?

The big questions at this point are how long the Sharks will have to live without Thornton and Couture and whether the top line centers will even remotely resemble themselves when they return to the ice, which DeBoer insists will happen, “at some point.”

Although the Sharks claim that Couture didn’t suffer a concussion when he took that puck to the mouth 12 days ago, it’s curious why he hasn’t been able to skate if the injury is related only to his teeth. Can he be the player that scored 30 points in 24 games in the playoffs last spring if he goes more than 10 days without skating on the eve of the second season?

Likewise, how effective will Thornton be even if his injury winds up being a minor MCL sprain? Can he just jump back on the ice in the middle of a playoff series and hang with the McDavids and Getzlafs of the world?

The Sharks will get another snapshot of their new reality Thursday when the Edmonton Oilers come to town for a potential first-round playoff series preview. If the Sharks play as they did against Vancouver, it will not be a pretty picture.

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