SAN JOSE -– Considering the Sharks had just lost three of four games on their homestand, and are now 3-8-0 in their last 11, head coach Pete DeBoer could have put his club through a grueling, expletive-filled practice on Wednesday and no eyebrows would have been raised.
Instead, it was the direct opposite. The Sharks held a brief yet playful three-on-three scrimmage with rolling lines, and everyone seemed to be having fun.
Why is DeBoer not hitting the panic button yet? Consider this – in his first 15 games as the head coach of the Devils in 2011-12, New Jersey posted a middling 8-6-1 mark, just three points better than where the Sharks sit now (7-8-0). That Devils team lost to the Kings in the Stanley Cup Final.
DeBoer has said more than once -– including after Wednesday’s skate –- that New Jersey didn’t really get going until Christmas that year. He still expects bigger and better things from the Sharks, even if they’re in a rut.
“I might be a real optimist, but I like our group,” DeBoer said. “I see the way that when we get healthy, the type of game we’re going to be able to play. Even when we’re not healthy, I’ve seen the type of game we’re able to play. While the results haven’t been what I’ve wanted, I’m really optimistic about this group and where we’re going.”
Joe Pavelski said: “We’ve been right there. We’ve been knocking on the door. … Obviously we haven’t done enough, but the next day after you digest it a little bit, the game is there. There’s moments in the games when we control it, we feel like we’ve definitely been good enough to win a lot of those games. We haven’t gotten it done, so we have to find that winning way now.”
Joel Ward liked DeBoer’s approach to Wednesday’s skate.
“[Wednesday] was just a way to kind of make it light a little bit, and for guys to get some rest, too,” he said. “Just let it go a little bit, and press the reset button, hop on the plane and be ready.”
The Sharks didn’t skate on Thursday, leaving the day open for a flight to Detroit where a difficult six-game road trip starts with the Red Wings on Friday. A game against the surprising Sabres is on Saturday, and after stops in Boston and Philadelphia, the trip concludes with back-to-backs versus the Penguins and Blue Jackets.
Since the calendar still says November, calling this a make-or-break trip is premature. But, it’s important that the Sharks start finding a way to put some points in the bank before other Pacific Division teams heat up.
The power play sits in last place in the NHL, both goalies have allowed some questionable goals of late, and the bottom six still leaves a lot to be desired in three of the more concerning aspects to their game.
DeBoer, though, liked the look of his forward lines in a 4-2 loss to the Islanders on Tuesday in which the goalies let the team down. Melker Karlsson returned to his spot on the Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski line, while Joonas Donskoi played with Tommy Wingels and Chris Tierney on a line that the coach seemed particularly pleased with.
“I thought that line was excellent,” DeBoer said. “I thought that was Tommy Wingels’ best game of the year. I thought that line gave us a lot of positive energy. That’s the type of depth contributions we’re looking for. … That style of play, driving the possession, that type of thing. We’re getting there. It’s a process, but we’re getting there.”
As enjoyable as Wednesday’s practice was, it would pale in comparison to the Sharks finally stringing some wins together, starting with the Red Wings.
“[We’ll] try to start off with a win, and you put yourself in a pretty good position for the rest of the trip,” Ward said.
DeBoer said: “From a measurable point of view, we’re doing some good things. The results aren’t there, but we can’t lose sight of that.”