Programming note: Panthers-Sharks coverage starts Thursday at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
The loss to the Sabres on Tuesday had nothing to do with fatigue, lack of practice time, or not taking a weaker opponent seriously.
According to head coach Todd McLellan, the main problem in the 4-1 defeat was between the ears.
“We come out in the second and third period and played dumb hockey,” McLellan said. “Just flat out dumb.”
“Pinching, giving up two-on-ones, three-on-twos. We'd only given up 10 shots after two periods, and we were down [3-1]. Just dumb hockey. You don't win at any level playing like that and you don't beat any type of team playing like that.”
The Sharks concluded their seven-game road trip with a 3-4-0 record. That doesn’t look too appalling right away, until you consider they threw away points against teams that don’t look like playoff contenders, including Buffalo, Columbus and Florida. They needed rookie goaltender Troy Grosenick to save their bacon on Sunday in a 2-0 win over a struggling Carolina club, too.
Perhaps even more maddening is that the Sharks were able to beat the top team in the Eastern Conference at the time, Tampa Bay, 2-1 on Nov. 13. It was one of their best performances of the season and indicated that the Sharks can still compete with the NHL’s best when they are on their game.
Against the Sabres, it was defensive miscues, particularly by the third pair of Matt Irwin and Jason Demers, that hurt the most. Offensively, though, it wasn’t much better.
"Offensively, we played on the outside, pull-up and pass around the outside,” McLellan said. “No one to penetrate or throw the puck to the net, so you're not going to score, either. It was a disappointing night, and we've got some things to correct."
There are a number of players slumping offensively. Logan Couture's power play assist against Buffalo was his first point in six games. Tommy Wingels has two assists in the last nine games. Matt Nieto hasn’t scored since the season opener on Oct. 5, and fellow sophomore Tomas Hertl has one goal and one assist in his last six games.
There hasn’t been much scoring from the blue line, either. Brent Burns has six goals, but the Sharks have just five goals combined from their remaining defensemen.
Although not mentioned by name, Patrick Marleau was seemingly called out by McLellan. Marleau has not scored an even-strength goal since Oct. 18 in New Jersey, and has just one goal in his last 16 games – a power play marker on Nov. 8 in Dallas in the first game of the road trip.
“We'll get some practice time, but individuals have to pick it up. We've had guys that have only scored on the power play in their last 15, 16 games - key guys. That's not good enough,” McLellan said. “We've got some individuals that really have to pick it up, and as a result of that our team game should come around.”
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, like his coach, didn’t want to use a long road trip as an excuse for the team’s lackluster performances.
“For me, I don't think you can use that. It's never an issue. We had a day off yesterday. We had a day off in Florida,” Vlasic said. “Fatigue, no, it's not an issue. You can say we're traveling a lot. But with days off and rest, everybody should be ready to go."
The Sharks will open a stretch on Thursday of 11 of their next 13 games at SAP Center, where they had the best home record in the Western Conference last season.
"It’s hard to really get a good judge because we’ve been on the road so much, but when you think about how much we’ve been on the road, it’s not too, too bad,” said Marleau, of the Sharks’ season so far. “It could be a lot better, it could be a lot worse, so if we can string some home wins together and start wracking up those points, it will be good."