CHICAGO – The San Jose Sharks have a league-best 19 points on the road, are tied for the NHL lead with eight road wins, and have gained at least a point in the standings in 11 of 13 overall.
But it’s two of those defeats – a 5-1 drubbing at Chicago’s United Center on Sunday night, and a 4-3 overtime loss at Staples Center on Oct. 30 – that really rankle Joe Pavelski. If the Sharks are going to end their franchise drought of never appearing in the Stanley Cup Final, chances are they’ll have to win in at least one, if not both, of those aforementioned buildings.
[Instant Replay: Sharks end trip with ugly loss to Blackhawks]
The Sharks fell to 0-5-1 in their last six games in Chicago, dating back to Antti Niemi’s first-ever start against his former team on Dec. 30, 2010. San Jose has lost its last seven in Los Angeles, including playoffs.
“We know we’re going to have to win in this building probably, win in LA,” said Pavelski, who was the lone goal-scorer on Sunday night. “These are the buildings on the road that you’ve got to win in, and you’ve got to learn to win in. It’s tough to lose. It sucks. …There’s no other way to put it.”
Dan Boyle said: “We haven’t won here in awhile. You’d have to imagine we have to go through either or both of those teams to get to where we want to go.”
On a more positive note, the Sharks concluded the longest trip remaining on their schedule with a 3-1-1 record in which they changed time zones before every game. Coming back to San Jose with seven of a possible 10 points should be considered an accomplishment.
Although no one in the visiting dressing room would admit it, fatigue may have played a factor. Chicago was playing in the second of a back-to-back after a convincing loss in Nashville on Saturday night, but seemed to have the better energy in the third period against the road-weary Sharks.
Boyle said: “It was a pretty tough road trip for us physically and mentally. We had some good, and we had some bad, and we’ll go home and get some rest and start over again.”
“We lacked a lot of energy that was needed to play in this type of game,” Todd McLellan said. “When you don’t have energy, you better be sharp mentally, and we may have been really poor in that area.”
Still, the Sharks were in the game through two periods, trailing 2-1. They very nearly tied it early in the third, but the puck rolled over Boyle’s stick as he was preparing to bring the puck back to his forehand from close range on Corey Crawford.
Chicago pulled away after that missed chance, getting goals from Jonathan Toews, Kris Versteeg and Patrick Sharp on a late penalty shot to win going away.
Some defensive miscues and miscommunication resulted in most of Chicago’s offense, according to McLellan. He was especially displeased with Sharp’s game-winner in the second period shortly after Pavelski tied it, and Towes key third period marker.
“In both cases, we’ve got the puck, and it’s in our net. If we go four deep in goals and assists, you probably will be rewarding [the Sharks] for a fourth assist,” he said.
Joe Thornton, whose seven-game point streak came to an end, said: “They have such a good transition game. Early on, I thought we did a good job but later in the game, just too many turnovers. Their D can zip it up real quick to their skilled forwards, and they can make you pay.”
The Sharks will have a couple of days to rest before hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, in the first of a five-game homestand. In another six-and-a-half weeks, they’ll get a second and final crack at the defending champs on home ice on Jan. 5.
“We’ll get another chance here, and we have to find a way to get through the top teams at home,” Boyle said.