SAN JOSE – Logan Couture sensed where the focus was headed even before leaving the Staples Center dressing room on Saturday night.
“The series is a long way from being over. I’m sure it’s going to be well documented how we played at home this year,” he said, shortly after the Sharks’ 2-1 win gave them a two-games-to-none lead in their first round series with Los Angeles.
Speaking with the media on Sunday, coach Pete DeBoer grew weary after three straight minutes of inquires about the Sharks’ struggles at home.
“We’ve got to have to have another story line here, don’t we?” he said with a half-kidding, half-serious tone.
To review, the Sharks finished the season with an 18-20-3 record at SAP Center, 26th in the NHL. They are the only playoff team that lost more games than it won in its own building (Minnesota was 19th in the league at 21-16-4).
Even worse is that the Sharks were just 1-8-1 in the first home game after a multiple-game road trip. That’s the situation they’ll be in for Monday’s Game 3 after playing two straight in Los Angeles.
“I think it’s human nature to let your guard down or take a deep breath after a long road trip,” DeBoer said. “Is that the fatigue of traveling back? Is that an emotional letdown of we got the job done on the road again and played in some really tough buildings, and now we can relax a little? It may be all of those things.”
Are there any mental hurdles that the Sharks need to get over at home?
“I don’t know. We’ve just got to play our game,” Patrick Marleau said. “I think everybody knows that, no matter where we’re at. Obviously we know what’s worked for us on the road, now it’s just bringing that home.”
The Sharks’ play at home hasn’t been all doom and gloom. They closed out the regular season with a 1-0 win over Arizona in their most recent appearance. The last time the Kings were at SAP Center, just three weeks ago on March 28, San Jose claimed a 5-2 victory. They beat the Rangers and Capitals at home in March, too, and lost a pair of close games to the Stars and Blues that could have gone either way.
The late home stinkers, though, include a 6-3 loss to Edmonton on March 24, a 3-0 defeat to New Jersey on March 10, a 4-2 loss to Vancouver on March 5 and a 3-1 Buffalo triumph on Feb. 26.
“I think if we’ve dropped the ball somewhere it’s been against some of the teams at the bottom half of the standings,” DeBoer said. “That’s why my concern isn’t where you guys might think it should be, because we won some really quality home games against good opponents the past couple of months.”
Another factor may be that the Sharks have had trouble filling their building this season. Just 13 of their 41 homes games were sellouts, and some nights there looked to be upwards of 3-4,000 empty seats.
Games 3 and 4, though, are expected to sell out. Marleau, who has been in San Jose longer than any of his teammates, said that could help the home team’s cause.
“The start of the game the crowd is into it right away, and different opportunities throughout the game where you kill a penalty or get a power play, you get that little extra boost,” he said.
Joe Pavelski said: “You know the fans are going to show up. I can already see what the atmosphere is going to be like as we skate out of the Shark head. It's something we're looking forward to."