SAN JOSE -– The first period of Thursday night’s Sharks-Devils game at SAP Center was about as about as dreary and dull as NHL hockey can get.
The likeliest reason the Sharks looked drowsy was their brutal schedule of late, playing 13 of their first 18 games after the All-Star break on the road, crisscrossing time zones several times a week for the past five weeks.
The Devils? They’re just not very good, and haven’t played an exciting brand of hockey since they wore green pants. New Jersey entered Thursday night having lost eight of 10 games, and was missing three of its higher end players in Cory Schneider, Patrik Elias and Mike Cammalleri.
It took a Devante Smith-Pelly goal three minutes into the second period to wake up the home team, which went on to record the final 14 shots of the middle frame. They couldn’t put one by backup goalie Keith Kinkaid, though, and went on to suffer their latest loss on home ice, 3-0.
“We could have been better,” Joe Pavelski said. “We could have had a little more jump, and [been] a little harder in some areas.”
Considering no one on the Sharks had a particularly good game, coach Pete DeBoer suggested that the rough schedule caught up on Thursday. The Sharks played a back-to-back in Calgary and Edmonton to start the week, and were completing a stretch of four games in six nights. The Devils had been off since Sunday.
“I’m not one to make excuses, but it’s real when you have not just one or two guys off, you have a whole bunch of guys. That’s real,” DeBoer said.
What’s also real is that San Jose is now just 1-7-1 in the first home game after a multiple-game road trip. Still the NHL’s best road team with a 25-9-3 mark, the Sharks dropped to just 12-15-3 at SAP Center.
They looked to be turning that home game around with a 6-0-3 stretch from Jan. 9 – Feb. 13, but since then they’ve lost three of four (1-3-0).
“Maybe we take it for granted or just expect the same thing is going to happen at home without that same kind of intensity or effort,” Paul Martin said. “You expect someone is going to do something to win, and that’s not the case. We’ve just got to have a little more desperation.”
Pavelski said: “When we come back, we’re excited to get back here. If there is low energy or something like that, it’s not an excuse. We fight that all year long at times, and we need to manage it a little bit better.”
Perhaps complicating matters is the rough ice at SAP Center that several players have mentioned throughout the past few weeks. The Sharks moved their AHL affiliate into their home arena to start the season, and that extra activity appears to be taking its toll on the frozen surface.
Martin brought it up on Thursday night, while DeBoer seemed downright annoyed with the conditions.
When asked if his club needs to simplify its game when the puck is bouncing to and fro, the coach said: “Maybe we fix the ice. How about that?”
Despite the early weariness and the second period onslaught in which they came up empty, the Sharks were still in the game to start the third period, trailing 1-0. DeBoer decided to move Dainius Zubrus to the Joe Thornton-Pavelski line to begin the final frame, and the end result was a Travis Zajac goal that took an unfortunate bounce off of Martin’s leg before spinning over the goal line at 1:35.
That kept up a recent pattern of DeBoer mixing and matching his lines to try and jump-start his team. It worked in a pair comeback road wins against Vancouver. It didn’t work on Thursday.
“We switched lines a little bit. Obviously, we couldn’t score a goal,” Zubrus said.
DeBoer said: “This was a night, you’ve got to give them credit. They were a hungry team, they’re rested, they were sitting here waiting, they’re desperate. They played a hard, heavy game. We needed to find a way to get one to maybe get some momentum, and we just couldn’t do it tonight.”