Programming note: Sharks-Blues coverage gets underway today at 5 p.m. only on Comcast SportsNet California
ST. LOUIS – No excuses.
That’s head coach Todd McLellan’s primary message to the Sharks, after the St. Louis Blues got stuck in Vancouver due to issues with their team plane, and didn’t land until after 6 a.m. on Tuesday. The Blues host the Sharks later today (5 p.m., CSN California, NBCSN).
“We’re the fresh team. We have absolutely no excuse to be able to outwork or at least out-compete that team all over the rink, or attempt to,” McLellan said. “That’s the first message, because if you don’t outwork teams, you don’t win. Secondly, we’ve got to get our execution level up so we play the game much faster.”
The Sharks will be trying to end a seven-game losing streak (0-4-3) after winning their first seven. On Friday in Chicago, the team was thoroughly outplayed by the NHL’s best club in a 4-1 loss.
The numbers bear repeating. The Sharks have not scored more than two regulation goals in eight of their last nine games. They have just three goals in their last four games, and have been shut out twice. The power play is 2-for-38 in the last nine games.
What’s the problem?
“I think our compete-level is good at times, but it needs to be a little bit better throughout the whole game,” Patrick Marleau said. “When that raises, other things start to come – second chances are there for you.”
Dan Boyle agreed, and took it a step further.
“It’s mental. It’s heart. It’s putting your mind to it,” said the defenseman. “All it takes is one stride, you take off and it’s half a second here and there. That can definitely be better.”
Marleau, Boyle and McLellan all mentioned that team’s passing game is not where it needs to be, and the Sharks have looked slow as a result of not being able to quickly move the puck up the ice and through the neutral zone.
“Our passes have not been very good,” Marleau said. “That leads to the other team getting offensive chances and getting their game going. Without the passes on the tape and guys skating, [speed] doesn’t happen. It looks slow and unorganized. You make two clean passes, you’re on the attack and moving pretty fast.”
Boyle said: “Our passes are off. Sometimes the puck bounces and that’s just part of the game, but too often – and it’s everybody – we need to be crisp. Our passes need to be right on, and I think that makes us a little bit faster.”
Unlike their 17-day, nine-game trip last February, the Sharks broke up their six-game swing by stopping back in the Bay Area for the weekend for a brief respite. The team flew home immediately following Friday night’s game in Chicago, practiced at Sharks Ice on Sunday, and flew to St. Louis yesterday.
“I think it was good. I liked being able to go home and sleep in your bed for a couple nights,” Marleau said. “We had a good practice yesterday, and hopefully that will work in our favor.”
It’s a compete contrast to what the Blues have endured since they beat the Canucks, 4-3 in a shootout, on Sunday night.
McLellan said: “They are going to play hard and compete. But, we know what it’s like to travel. We know the toll of being on the road, and we know the toll of travelling late.
“We’re fresh. There isn’t a player in there that can’t say they don’t have an energy level that isn’t where it’s supposed to be.”
Top scorers not producing
Looking at Marleau and Joe Thornton’s numbers, and its easy to see why the Sharks are down in the doldrums when it comes to offense. Marleau has just one point, a goal in Columbus on Feb. 11, in the last eight games. Thornton has just an assist over that span, getting the secondary helper on Joe Pavelski’s garbage-time goal in the same game.
Marleau said: “It’s one of those things where it’s just inches. You’ve got to stick with it and work through it. That feeling will come again. As a whole and as a team we’ve got to play better, and I think that’s when individual success comes, when the team is playing well.”
McLellan said there are “four players we rely on to score a lot that haven’t played well lately,” and although he didn’t mention them by name, Marleau and Thornton are surely among them.
That being said, the entire team is in a scoring slump. Marty Havlat has one point in his last 10 games. Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture have two points in the last seven games. Ryane Clowe still has not scored a single goal this season.
And so on and so forth.
“Rather than us being divided or separated, we’re all in it. Everyone has to find a way to contribute,” McLellan said.
Opponents pocketing points vs. San Jose
The Sharks have fallen all the way to seventh place in the Western Conference, and could easily be out of the top eight before their next game in Chicago on Friday if they lose to St. Louis. On top of the seven-game losing streak, the team hasn’t won in regulation since Jan. 27, surrendering 16 of a possible 18 points to its opponents over that span.
That’s magnified in a shortened season that features only intra-conference play.
“That’s the thing. It’s West vs. West. We can’t count on the East to take some Western teams down,” Boyle said. “Not only are we not getting them, but we’ve given away 14 points in the last seven games.”
Desjardins likely returning
He’s not officially off of injured reserve yet - that will probably come later today - but it looks like Andrew Desjardins will play in his first game since Feb. 5.
Desjardins took shifts on the fourth line wing with Adam Burish in the middle and the recently recalled Matt Pelech on the other side.
That leaves the struggling Scott Gomez and TJ Galiardi as the odd men out up front.
Antti Niemi is expected to oppose St. Louis rookie Jake Allen in goal.
Niemi, who has an impressive 1.94 GAA and .930 SP this season but struggled in Chicago, is 4-5-0 in his career against the Blues in the regular season.
This will be Allen’s fifth game of his career, all this season. The 2008 second round pick is 3-0-0 with a 2.77 GAA in .888 SP in four games.