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Has exhaustion caught up to the San Jose Sharks?

Through four games in the Stanley Cup Final the San Jose Sharks have drawn a stark contrast to the team that rolled through the Western Conference Playoffs.

Their power play has gone silent. Their early-game energy has been sapped. Their top scorers have struggled to find the back of the net.

The Penguins’ hyper aggressive, speed-oriented system has played a role, but has the Sharks’ travel during the regular season and in this postseason finally dragged them down?

“That's a good question. I don't know,” coach Peter DeBoer said on an off-day conference call Tuesday after his team lost Game 4 to go down 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.  

"I mean, that's a reality of what we deal with,” he added. “The one thing about the guys here is
they've never used it as an excuse. You never hear that as an excuse.”

Even though his players don’t use it as an excuse doesn’t mean it hasn’t played some role as the playoffs have gone on.

During the NHL’s regular season, the Sharks traveled an NHL high 50,362 miles according to On The Forecheck. The Penguins traveled the second-fewest miles in the league at 33,660.

“I think the way our schedule was this year, I think it was the weirdest, craziest schedule for the amount of miles we traveled,” forward Joel Ward told Puck Daddy during the Western Conference Final.

The entire Eastern Conference is in the same time zone so the Penguins never had to deal with a change during this postseason. Their furthest trip was to Tampa, which is around 1,000 miles. The Sharks’ furthest trip was to Nashville in the second-round, which was over 2,000 miles and two time zones away. St. Louis – their Western Conference Final opponent – was slightly closer, but also two time zones from San Jose.

Still, DeBoer points out that the Los Angeles Kings were able to overcome the same troubles in their big years.

“It didn't stop L.A. from winning multiple Cups,” he said. “We've got to find a way.”

But the Kings’ roads on their Cup runs were shorter than the Sharks’.

In 2012 the Kings played two rounds (Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes) in their time zone and one round (St. Louis Blues) in the central time zone.  

In 2014 the Kings played the Sharks and Anaheim Ducks. Against the Ducks they didn’t have to even leave their own metro area for that series. They then faced the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final.

San Jose’s path would be similar to the Anaheim Ducks of 2007. That team played in the Central time zone in the first-round against the Minnesota Wild, Pacific time in the second-round, against Vancouver, and then in the Eastern time zone for the Western Conference Final – against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Ducks beat the Ottawa Senators in five games in the Stanley Cup Final.

“Coming out here as a first-year coach, I thought I would hear that from these guys. I think they've been doing it for so long, it's a part of life and playing out here,” DeBoer said. “They refuse to use it as an excuse. So I'm not going to.”

The Sharks have become big with stressing proper sleep habits, working with University of California, San Francisco researcher Cheri Mah according to the New York Times.

Every night, the Sharks are encouraged to swallow chamomile, lavender and tart cherry juice, a melatonin producer that also combats inflammation. Augmenting players’ consumption of zinc, magnesium and other nutrients has also helped the Sharks get better, more reliable sleep while diminishing their use of prescription drugs such as Ambien. In addition, the Sharks’ staff suggests that players control their sleep environment, minimizing ultraviolet light and keeping their rooms quiet, dark and cool. 

DeBoer has been strategic with his off days this season, giving his veteran group more rest to account for all the travel miles. But after 104 games (regular season and playoffs combined) and multiple cross-country trips the last month, rest can only do so much.

After the Sharks beat the Blues in the Western Conference Final, St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said a lot of his team’s mistakes were based on exhaustion. This was because St. Louis had played two straight seven-game series prior in the playoffs.

“We made some tired decisions late in games, late in periods, late in shifts that we hadn't made,” he said. “But I think if you're going to look at one aspect, it's our inability to close off those first two series and get the rest that San Jose got by closing off L.A. so early.”

Hockey players are wired to not complain about lack of rest this time of year. But so many of the Sharks’ top players have been rendered ineffective this series that it seems like something more than the Penguins has led to such a drop-off.

Joe Pavelski, who is still leading the NHL in playoff goals, has no points. First-line center Joe Thornton has two assists. Logan Couture, the league’s leading postseason scorer, has two assists. Dynamic defenseman Brent Burns has two assists. The power play is 1-for-8. The Penguins have scored the first goal every game this series. Before this series the Sharks had struck first in 13 of 18 playoff games. Their power play was at 27 percent.

DeBoer has tried switching his team’s lines, but even he is worried that can be taxing on his players. If your tank is near empty, what else can you do?

“We've shortened the bench the last two games because  we've been behind. It's not ideal. Catches up to you, especially when you're this deep into the playoffs and have played as many games as we have and logged as many miles as we have. It's been more out of necessity,” he said. “There's a saying that you  dance with the girl you brought to the dance. I think that's going to probably be our approach here going forward.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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