The San Jose Sharks are currently in their biggest slump of the season and there are absolutely no signs of them righting the ship any time soon. San Jose has been horrendous with the puck, atrocious without it and hideously awful between the pipes which has led to an 0-5-1 mark in their last six games.
Essentially, the blame can be equally shared amongst all 19 players who skate in any given game. However, it is extremely difficult to blame backup netminder Thomas Greiss.
Greiss, a member of the German Olympic squad in Vancouver has appeared in just 14 games this season, and a mere 10 of them coming in a starting role.
While teammate and fellow Olympian Evgeni Nabokov (Russia) is the clear cut starting goalie for San Jose, it shouldn't mean that the long time Shark should be overworked at the rate he has this season.
Nabokov, like the rest of the Sharks has been sputtering since returning from the Olympics and yet Greiss has received just one start in net during the 10 games since? It is simply mind boggling the lack of playing time Greiss has been given.
Remember, when the Sharks entered the Olympic break, they were sitting comfortably in first place of the Western Conference. And yet after their most recent loss at the hands of the NHL's worst team, (the Edmonton Oilers) the Sharks find themselves sitting in fourth place, giving up the top spot in the Pacific Division to the Phoenix Coyotes.
These games down the stretch weren't suppose to be vital for San Jose because they had such a comfortable lead on third place. I even wrote an article back in February suggesting that the chances either the Sharks or Blackhawks finished lower than second in the conference was as likely as either Peyton Manning or Drew Brees failing to throw a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl.
But wouldn't you know it, if the playoffs started today, San Jose would be in fourth position. Now, similarly to the NFL, it is hard to make personnel changes to jump start the team. For all intents and purposes, a backup receiver, backup lineman, backup corner, or backup linebacker isn't going to create a big enough spark if inserted into a starting role.
Yet a change at quarterback can shock players out of their slumps and turn momentum around. In hockey, the only position that comes close to being on the same level as quarterback is the goaltender.
In fact, both positions are attributed (fair or not) with wins and losses despite both sports being team games.
Now, in no way shape or form am I calling for a goaltending controversy. But the 34-year-old Nabokov is clearly running on fumes and Greiss is rotting away on the bench. And if Nabokov severely struggles in the postseason or suffers an injury, Greiss simply would not be ready to play effective hockey.
At this rate, Greiss is only on pace to start one more game this season. If that were to happen, Nabokov would have then started 71 games. Add three Olympic contests and then you are looking at 74 competitive games played before the playoffs.
However, when it comes to recent starting goaltenders who have hoisted hockey's most sought after prize, nearly all of them have had a teammate see much more time between the pipes than Greiss has this season.
Last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the cup with starting netminder Marc-Andre Fleury who only started 61 games. Two years ago, the Detroit Red Wings won the cup with Chris Osgood only starting 40 regular season games. In fact, Osgood ended up taking over for Dominik Hasek part way through the first round of the playoffs.
The list keeps going on and on:
2006-2007: Jean-Sebastien Giguere 53 starts
2005-2006: Cam Ward 25 starts
2003-2004: Nikolai Khabibulin 54 starts
2002-2003: Martin Brodeur 73 starts
2001-2002: Dominik Hasek 64 starts
2000-2001: Patrick Roy 60 starts
1999-2000: Martin Brodeur 72 starts
1998-1999: Ed Belour 59 starts
1997-1998: Chris Osgood 64 starts
1996-1997: Chris Osgood 45 starts
1995-1996: Patrick Roy 60 starts
1994-1995: Martin Brodeur 38 starts
In other words, no goalie not named Martin Brodeur (shout out to my fellow blogger MJ Kasprzak who made me realize this) has won the Stanley Cup in the last 15 years with playing as many games as Nabokov is on pace to play this season.
And Nabokov, as good as he can be, is certainly no Martin Brodeur.
Now since the Sharks have 10 games remaining in the regular season, Thomas Greiss should be fed his much over due bone and receive starting duties in exactly half of those games.
Nabokov has struggled to the tune of an .873 save percentage since the Olympic break. Obviously Head coach Todd McLellan's attempt to play him out of his slump just hasn't worked.
Therefore a new stragegy should be employed. A strategy that gives an aging goaltender (with a history of burning out when playing too many games) his much deserved rest and gets the rusty No. 2 goaltender his much deserved playing time.
After all, Greiss has given the Sharks some impressive performances in net this season. Greiss beat the Coyotes, Flyers and Blues all on the road this year. In each and every one of those games the German native allowed no more than two goals and turned away no fewer than 34 shots.
Greiss has completely and totally earned some consistent playing time and with this current losing streak, it would make sense to get him some extra action. By benching Nabokov in back to back games for the first time all season and in five of the remaining 10 games, McLellan can accomplish many different things.
A) Nabokov will get his much needed rest
B) Greiss will shake off the cob webs and be playoff ready
C) It might just be the slap in the face this team needs to get out of their slump.