SAN JOSE – The clock is ticking on the Sharks’ 2014-15 season, and if it ended today, the inconsistent club would be out of the playoffs for the first time since the 2002-03 campaign.
There are just 20 games left for the Sharks to establish an identity, including Saturday night’s matchup with the Senators, but according to coach Todd McLellan that’s plenty of time.
“We just have to look down the road at the Kings,” McLellan said. “Three weeks ago they were in the same boat we were, where it wasn’t looking real good. They reeled things back together, they got very good positional play from the net, blue line and forwards, and all of a sudden they won eight games in a row and they’re in control of their destiny.”
While comparing the Sharks to the two-time Stanley Cup champions is a bit of a reach, the message is still clear. San Jose can play much better than it has, and although it doesn’t look like a legitimate contender, a playoff berth is still well within reach.
To do that, though, they’ll have to improve at home. The Sharks are on their longest home winless streak since the start of the 2003-04 season, having lost their last seven (0-5-2). That includes the 2-1 Stadium Series defeat against the Kings last Saturday at Levi’s Stadium, and Thursday’s crushing last-minute 3-2 loss to the Red Wings.
San Jose is still looking for its first home win in the month of February.
“It’s been brutal. We’ve been awful. It’s terrible. It’s unacceptable. It’s bad,” said Logan Couture, exhausting his supply of adjectives.
“I feel bad for our fans who come and watch us every night. We haven’t won for a month at home. That’s on us. We take full responsibility for that. We haven’t been good enough. They’re obviously angry, we’re angry. Nothing’s going to change until we go out and change it. It doesn’t matter what we say, we’ve got to go out and do it.”
Typically, SAP Center has been one of the more difficult buildings for opposing clubs. The Sharks were 29-7-5 at home last season, the best mark in the Western Conference. In the shortened 2013 season they had a 17-2-5 mark, tied for the best in the NHL.
Have road teams had an easier time here lately?
“Do the fans not cheer as loud when they see poor results out there, absolutely,” Tommy Wingels said. “They get pretty invested in the team and how the team fares.
“Maybe it has become an easier place to play. I think we used to jump on teams early like we did [Thursday] night and keep the foot on the gas pedal. That’s been lacking recently. It’s evident that the fans would like to see something a little better here.”
The Sharks will play six of their next seven at SAP Center, before concluding the season with 10 of their final 13 on the road.
The roster could get altered a bit before Monday’s trade deadline, but the Sharks are much more likely to be sellers than buyers. It’s up to the players in the room to ramp up the intensity and focus, especially in front of the fans that have been supporting them for so long now.
“We’ve got 20 games left and we’re not changing the way we play,” McLellan said. “We’re not going to have a magic wand that we swipe. It comes internally now.
“The next milestone for our team will be the trade deadline, but after that, the cavalry isn’t coming. The group that we have, we’re making a commitment to. They’ve got to look at each other and make that commitment to each other, and get it done.”