Programming note: Islanders-Sharks coverage gets underway Tuesday at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live, only on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE – In a span of less than a week, the Sharks went from looking like they might start pulling away with the Pacific Division to being right back in the thick of the playoff race.
Prior to a game in Pittsburgh on last Thursday, the Sharks – winners of nine of 10, and firing on all cylinders – held a three-point lead in the division over Anaheim, with three games in hand. In fact, San Jose had the best winning percentage in the entire NHL, having lost just three times in regulation.
Since then, the Sharks have dropped three straight in regulation, while the rivals Ducks, Kings and Canucks have combined to win their last 11. Anaheim, which has still played three more games than San Jose, is back to having a four-point cushion on the Sharks for first place in the competitive Pacific.
A game against the struggling Islanders on Tuesday will offer the Sharks a golden chance to get back in the win column. New York has lost 10 straight (0-8-2).
“Last week we were ahead of everybody, now we’re right with the pack,” Joe Thornton said. “It’s a big game for us, to put us back where we want to be.”
Brad Stuart said: “It seems nowadays you can’t really afford to lose a couple games. Somebody’s winning, it’s pretty tight, and somebody is making a move it seems like all the time. It’s our job to get back on track and know that teams are pushing, and making a run. We’ve got to do the same.”
The Sharks didn’t play badly in their most recent loss, a 3-1 decision in Minnesota on Sunday. San Jose outshot the WiId 38-13, but an ineffective power play went 0-for-4 and seemed to give the Wild the momentum.
Dan Boyle, who was taken off of the top unit at one point, was honest in his assessment of the man advantage on Tuesday morning. Overall, the Sharks are just three for their last 39 chances.
“Last game was probably the worst in the five years that I’ve been here,” Boyle said. “We all have to be better individually, and collectively we’ll be better. It starts with me, bringing the puck up, making a better play. Then, just being a little sharper out there, and outworking the other team.”
The Sharks held a power play meeting before their morning skate, after Monday was a day off. McLellan was asked if he’s put his finger on the problem.
“We’ve tried, but sometimes you have to move your finger around a little bit until you find the right spot,” he said.
“It’s about a commitment level that has to go up a little bit higher, it’s about a work ethic that has to go up, it’s about execution that has to be better. If you do those three things to begin with, at least you’ll at least give yourself a chance to repair it.”
The Islanders will be playing the second of a back-to-back games, having lost to the Ducks on Monday night, 5-2. A playoff team a year ago, they have been a huge disappointment this year, despite acquiring Thomas Vanek. New York has the second-worst point total in the NHL, ahead of only Vanek’s previous team, the Buffalo Sabres.
Still, with Vanek and young star John Tavares on the same line, they can’t be taken lightlly.
“They’re a team that’s going to win eventually because they’re talented enough and they are playing hard,” McLellan said. “The coach has them organized, and I think [Jack Capuano] is doing a good job.”
Tuesday’s game is one of two at SAP Center this week before the Sharks go right back on the road, starting a three-game trip in Nashville on Saturday. San Jose, which hosts Minnesota on Thursday, is 10-1-2 on home ice.
“We want to come out strong at home. We’ve done that lately in our home games and want to continue that,” Couture said.
Antti Niemi will start in net for the Sharks. Defenseman Scott Hannan, who was scratched in the Minnesota game, is out with an unspecified injury, and did not take part in the morning skate.
Marty Havlat also missed the game against Minnesota after blocking a shot against Carolina and could be an option to return, although he did not take any morning line rushes.