SAN JOSE –- Momentum swings are going to happen during NHL hockey games, even when the talent gap between clubs is significant.
The Sharks have already experienced that quite dramatically throughout their first eight games.
There was the quick start in Los Angeles in the season opener, followed by the second half in which they were on their heels. They jumped out to 3-0 lead against Winnipeg in their home opener three nights later, only to skate the third period without recording a single shot on goal.
In Washington on Oct. 14, the Sharks saw a 3-0 lead dissolve before they recovered to win in a shootout. A 3-0 third period lead in New Jersey on Oct. 18 turned into a tight 3-2 game towards the end of regulation before an empty net goal by Joe Thornton sealed the victory.
Against Columbus on Thursday, the Sharks saw a pair of advantages disappear, in what was their most disappointing defeat to date when Mark Letestu scored with just 20.7 seconds to go in regulation to cap the Blue Jackets comeback.
After they hung on for the Devils win, Logan Couture used the word “panic” when describing the Sharks’ overall game. That trait hasn’t dissipated in the week since he used that alarming term, as the Sharks have lost three straight in regulation, including the blown third period leads against Columbus and Boston on Tuesday.
In the Sharks’ dressing room on Friday, there were varying points of view as to the nature of the momentum swings.
“We can talk about [momentum] all we want, but it’s a game. It’s fun to play, and that’s why it’s fun,” Joe Pavelski said. “It goes back and forth both ways. They’re going to score a goal here and there, we’re going to score a couple.
“If we get leads, we’ve still got to be aggressive. We can’t sit back. We’ve still got to create our momentum and push through the night. If we’re talking about shutting down their momentum all night and if they get anything, it’s game over – it doesn’t work like that, right?”
Tommy Wingels admitted that the Sharks could be doing more to prevent their opponents from gaining energy.
“We need to realize there are good players in this league, and good teams,” he said. “When a team does have a good shift or two, we need to let it be, and you can’t let it snowball. You can’t get frustrated when they get you hemmed in your zone for 30 seconds, or a minute, because it’s going to happen.
“Momentum comes with power plays and penalty kills, but it’s about eliminating and counter-punching, and getting momentum for yourself. We’ve had good periods that we follow up with very poor periods. It’s a period thing it’s not a minute or two. It turns into a period. That’s something we’re addressing, and need to change.”
Not surprisingly, head coach Todd McLellan had a more tactical approach to the dramatic shifts the Sharks have been experiencing. There have simply been too many mistakes by the group that have led to prolonged stretches where the opposition seems to be in control.
Playing a simpler, more conservative game could be a good place to start.
“When the momentum gets away on you, you’ve got to settle things down. You’ve got to really pay attention to details,” McLellan said. “Your execution has to go up. You have to do little things to create big things, instead of big things to take care of the whole game.
“We’ve got to have two or three shifts put together where everything settles down and we’re back to where we need to be. I think right now with the number of goals we’ve given up, there is a little seed of doubt that slides into our minds. We’ve got to earn the right to not have that as the games go on.”