Programming note: Sharks-Jets coverage kicks off Sunday at 4:30 p.m with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
WINNIPEG – It was a brief and not-so-productive homestand for the Sharks last week.
After posting an 0-1-2 mark in three games at SAP Center, San Jose will kick off a five-game road trip on Sunday in Winnipeg, coming off of perhaps its two worst games of the season. Thursday’s 4-2 loss to Vancouver was preceded by a 5-4 shootout defeat to the NHL’s worst team in the Sabres on Tuesday.
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What needs to change?
“It starts with outworking the opposition. We haven’t done that in a little while,” said Todd McLellan, after the morning skate at MTS Centre on Sunday. “Before we start putting X’s and O’s up on the board, that has to get solved. The players have to take care of that tonight.
“After that, we have to get back to playing a speed game, and some of that is execution. We haven’t moved the puck very well, we haven’t been in position, we haven’t been a good supporting cast on the ice.”
All indications are that Matt Irwin will return to the lineup after a three-game absence, and will be paired with Dan Boyle. The odd man out appears to be Brad Stuart, who has played in the last 10 games after returning from a three-game suspension.
A coach can only do so much to try and jump-start a struggling team. Irwin’s return, as well as making some minor line changes like putting Tyler Kennedy back on the Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture line, is where McLellan will start.
“I hope putting me back in the lineup, I can contribute and help the team win,” Irwin said.
Stuart had been paired with Boyle the last three games, after Boyle returned from a head injury. McLellan didn’t want to get too much into evaluating the 34-year-old veteran blueliner, who missed a big portion of training camp with a lower body injury.
“Stuey has come back from in injury, he had very little training time in the summer, and he’s trying to find his game,” McLellan said.
So, too, are the Sharks, who have made some glaring mistakes in the defensive zone that weren’t there when they were off to a 10-1-1 start.
Jason Demers was asked what needs to change among the six defenders as a group in order to prevent those errors from reoccurring.
“I think we’re holding it a little too long the last two games,” Demers said. “It’s about moving the puck quick and getting it to our skilled forwards, letting them work, and follow the play up.”
San Jose will be facing a Winnipeg club coming off of its most convincing win of the season. The Jets scored four first period goals on Friday and beat Nashville at home, 5-0.
The Jets will be going for consecutive wins for the first time since the first two games of their season. The Sharks will be trying to avoid a fifth straight loss (0-1-3).
“I think coming on the road is probably a good thing for us right now, and playing a team that played very well in their last game,” Couture said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us tonight.”
McLellan said: “We’re having our bump in the road. Good teams figure out ways to figure that out real quick. They rely on the leadership group in the locker room, and the work ethic spread out amongst everybody. That’s what we’ll be looking for.”