Uneven Sharks thrash through ups and downs

In a way, it would have made sense had the Sharks lost to the Flames on Saturday and beaten the Oilers on Sunday.

After all, the Flames had won four straight and were ahead of the Sharks in the standings, while Edmonton had lost 11 in a row and hadn’t beaten a Western Conference team heading into the weekend.

But this Sharks team hasn’t made much sense this season, so it wasn’t a shock that they flipped the script, beating a tough Calgary squad and following it up by losing to the reeling Oilers.

This last weekend was the Sharks’ season in a nutshell. They showed grittiness and flashes of brilliance against a formidable opponent, but came out of the quick road trip with a sense of uncertainty, epitomizing the theme of inconsistency that has plagued them this season.

The Sharks have a maddening tendency to play down to inferior opponents. Case in point, the Oilers — once again at the bottom of the standings — managed to outplay and outshoot the Sharks on Sunday night.

San Jose came out of the gate lethargic, managing just two shots on goal in the first period to the Oilers’ 11, allowing Edmonton to jump in front and control the momentum of the game.

Their lone offense for the night was a result of raw skill. Patrick Marleau delivered a perfect no-look backhand pass to Tye McGinn for their lone goal, and they only sustained pressure late in the third trying unsuccessfully for a tying goal.

To be fair, San Jose was playing the back-end of a back-to-back and three games in four nights, while the Oilers had been off since Wednesday. Alex Stalock was making his first start in net since November, and every win streak has to be snapped somewhere.

But testing Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens just twice in the first period and 21 times in the game — their fewest against the Oilers since 2006 — has to be concerning, even considering the circumstances.

Said head coach Todd McLellan to the media after the game:

“By the time we got our legs underneath us, we had already wasted 20 minutes. When we did win races, I didn’t think we had a lot of polish and weren’t very sharp with the puck. We didn’t sustain very much.”

He continued:

“We had two or three outnumbered rushes – 2-on-1’s – that we did nothing with. When we’re playing well, we become dangerous in those situations.”

Wind back the video, and McLellan’s remarks mirror those he made when the Sharks lost to the Sabres, Blue Jackets, and Panthers — all bottom-feeders, and all twice each.

These performances are puzzling when Sharks have the talent to play with the NHL’s best.

We’ve seen it when they beat the defending champion Kings on opening night.  We’ve seen it when they beat the Ducks twice. We’ve seen it when they came back from a 2-0 deficit to rout the Bruins on Thursday, then rallied again to defeat the Flames on Saturday.

But their inconsistency and losses to teams such as the Oilers have cost them dearly in the standings, and could come back to bite them if they miss out on a playoff spot.

Consider this: if the Sharks had won even half of their eight games against the Sabres, Blue Jackets, Panthers, Oilers, and Coyotes — if they had gone 4-4-0 instead of 0-6-2 — they would have 38 points right now instead of just 32 and be tied with Vancouver for the second-highest point total in the West.

A team makes the playoffs by beating inferior opponents and staying competitive against the better teams. The Sharks have played well against elite teams, but they have not taken care of business against lesser squads. Thus, they find themselves on the outside looking in on the playoff picture.

The Sharks can ill afford to continue this trend of inconsistency, especially in a packed Pacific Division with five teams fighting for three spots. San Jose can not overlook teams with poor records; beating them could be the difference between playing hockey in late April and watching from their couch.

The Sharks will see the NHL worst Oilers twice in their upcoming five-game homestand, and, based on what we’ve seen thus far, it’s hard to decide whether that’s good or bad.