SAN JOSE – The Sharks have lost two straight games for the first time all season, but there weren’t any outward appearances of a panicked club in the dressing room on Monday.
That could be because San Jose picked up a point in each of its last two games, a 4-3 overtime defeat to the Kings last Wednesday and a 3-2 shootout loss to Phoenix on Saturday. Perhaps more importantly, the team played well enough to win both games, as a simple cleared puck here or timely save there could have altered the outcome.
“That’s why this is the best league in the world. You make a small mistake and it can turn into a goal pretty quickly,” Brad Stuart said. “It has happened to us a couple times in the last few games, so we’ve got to clean it up.”
Marc-Edouard Vlasic said: “You make a mistake against anybody, it will cost you.”
And, there have been a few mistakes.
Against the Kings last Wednesday, a Matt Irwin attempted pass to Logan Couture deep in the defensive zone resulted in the game-tying goal by Drew Doughty. In overtime, Justin Braun was momentarily caught out of position, forcing him to hook the Kings’ Jeff Carter leading to Anze Kopitar’s power play goal.
On Saturday, it took just 36 seconds for the Coyotes to score after Stuart missed a body check at the blue line and Dan Boyle couldn’t prevent a shot by Antoine Vermette from getting past Antti Niemi. Later, Niemi should have routinely denied the game-tying goal on an impossible angle from Mikkel Boedker.
The Sharks have, of course, played strong defensive hockey for most of the season, as evidenced by their 10-1-3 record and team 1.79 goals-against average (second in the league). Still, the recent errors have been numerous enough to aggravate head coach Todd McLellan.
“It’s hard to play perfect. If you’re going to lose, you’d like to get beat by somebody making an outstanding play and you really don’t have a chance. It’s the preventable ones that drive you a little bit crazy,” McLellan said. “There were a couple situations the other day that I thought were preventable. Tough pill to swallow, but, we learn lessons as we go along, and keep going.”
It could be a good time for the Sabres to visit, as Buffalo will bring a league-worst 2-13-1 mark into Tuesday’s game at SAP Center. Buffalo is last in the league in goals-per game (1.56) and 26th in goals-against (3.06).
Five-on-five play has been particularly egregious for Buffalo, which is scoring just .51 goals per goal allowed, also last in the league. Compare that with the Sharks, who have scored 1.83 goals for every goal surrendered during full-strength play, third in the NHL.
Buffalo, which recently traded Thomas Vanek to the Islanders for Matt Moulson and draft picks, has lost its last four games, all in regulation, and seven of its last eight.
“Their record is going to change when they leave here, and it’s either going to get better or worse. It’s our job to make sure that we take care of our record. They are a much more effective team than their record shows,” McLellan said.
“They’ve sorted some things out, [head coach Ron Rolston] has had more time now to put more in place. The games we’ve watched they are a pretty damn good hockey club. If we think any different, their record will improve [Tuesday].”
If the Sharks avoid some of the mistakes that have crept into their past two efforts, they should have more than enough firepower to handle the lowly Sabres.
“We could have come out with two points in either game, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was our two best games,” Stuart said. “There’s a lot of things we can do better.”