SAN JOSE – The Sharks' current seven-game homestand could very well make or break their playoff hopes.
So far it’s leaning towards break, and that was even before coach Todd McLellan revealed that two of his key players in defenseman Justin Braun and forward Tommy Wingels would be “out for a while” with upper body injuries.
The New Jersey Devils, who are far from a playoff team and have already been forced to make a head coaching change, took advantage of a number of mistakes by San Jose in claiming a 5-2 win. It was the Sharks’ second straight loss at home, fifth in the last six (1-4-1), and comes two days after San Jose was completely and inexplicably unprepared in the opening minutes of a 4-3 overtime loss to Calgary.
“I’m concerned about our drive right now, the life that we bring to the rink and to the games,” McLellan said. “I don’t know if you want to call it passion, but just that internal drive per person isn’t where it needs to be right now.
“And these are important games. We talked about this streak of games here at home, how critical it would be. It’s disappointing to see that lack of drive right now.”
For years, the Sharks have enjoyed immense success in their own building. They were a Western Conference-leading 29-7-5 here last season, and in the shortened 2013 campaign, went 17-2-5, tied for the most points in the NHL.
Their road record wasn’t nearly as good, of course, but it didn’t have to be. It only needed to be respectable, and it was.
They need to reverse the current home situation quickly, and it won’t be easy. The Sharks’ next three opponents at SAP Center, where they are now a middling 11-8-3, are the Kings on Wednesday, and then the Ducks and Blackhawks immediately after the All-Star break.
Looking way ahead, 10 of the team’s final 13 games are on the road. They need points at home, and they need them now.
“We have to understand we’re in a dogfight every night,” Joe Pavelski said. “That’s the bottom line. Where we’re at right now, we want to start trending upwards, and we’re not. We’re just kind of staying level. We’ve got to start moving up a little bit, and we need these games. We need to play better.”
Against the Devils, some soft defense in the slot allowed New Jersey to erase an early Pavelski marker, as Jordin Tootoo got three whacks at a rebound to tie it in the first period. A Brendan Dillon turnover led to the go-ahead goal by Steve Bernier later in the first, and in the second period Mike Cammalleri’s power play goal gave the Devils the lead for good.
The Sharks did manage to look dangerous on the power play, getting 10 shots on goal, but couldn’t convert on a pair of third period advantages while trailing 3-2.
[RECAP: Sharks overpowered by Devils at home]
New Jersey put it away when Travis Zajac out-muscled Scott Hannan in front of the net to get a rebound, and Jacob Josefsen took advantage of Tomas Hertl getting caught deep on yet another Sharks power play in scoring a shorthanded goal on a two-on-one.
“I think we’ve got to be a lot stronger,” Dillon said of the defense corps, which was without his partner Braun for most of the night. “Just going to this game, we wanted to out-muscle them in front of the net offensively and defensively. We know we can be better.”
McLellan said: “Our net play – and it’s not just the defensemen, it’s the low forwards as well, the ability to clear rebounds, take care of bodies, box out, control sticks – is not where it needs to be. Not even close. That’s an area we have to work on.”
They also have to work on playing better in front of their own fans, if they plan on treating them to an 11th straight postseason.
Matt Nieto said: “Any team could beat any team on any given night in this league. We know that. We have to find ways to win in our building.”