SAN JOSE – The Sharks have won just three of their last 12 games, but there have been specific moments of mental weakness during the run of futility that are perhaps even more concerning than the record.
Take the last two losses. Against the Kings outdoors on Saturday, most of the Sharks seemed to disregard the pregame warning that they would have to play a simplified game on bad ice. They managed to do it in a strong second period, but after Marian Gaborik’s third period goal gave the Kings a 2-1 lead after a misread by Brent Burns, the team sagged emotionally and didn’t generate much of anything until the final minute with the goalie pulled.
Against the Red Wings on Thursday, the start of the game was the best they’ve had in weeks. Instead of maintaining that level of play that earned them a 1-0 lead after the first intermission, though, they were outclassed by Detroit the rest of the way in a 3-2 defeat, their seventh straight on home ice. There were warnings from the coaching staff that the Red Wings were going to regroup, but Luke Glendening's game-winner late in regulation occurred after back-to-back unforced turnovers by Burns and Joe Pavelski.
After the game, coach Todd McLellan didn’t seem to disagree that his team is a fragile one. “The belief system is not as high as it needs to be,” he said.
“I agree,” Logan Couture said after Friday’s practice. “Maybe we don’t believe that we’re going to win every time we come to the rink, and that’s a problem. Maybe guys don’t believe in their roles, which is also a problem. … We’re going through a difficult time. Times like this, you’ve got to look individually at yourself, and be better every night and help the team.”
Tommy Wingels focused on the team's competitiveness, or lack thereof.
“I think [McLellan] means the belief in the need to sacrifice at all costs to win a game,” Wingels said.
“That’s where we’ve lacked I think over the past month or two, and frankly this entire season. Are we doing everything we can to win? Is each guy sacrificing in every situation? I don’t think so. That’s what we need to change.”
The Sharks were on their heels against Detroit from the opening shift of the second period until the final horn, and it seemed like it was only a matter of time before the Red Wings would find a way to score a couple more. The opposite was true in the first period, when the Sharks enjoyed a 14-4 edge in shots, including Matt Irwin's marker.
The rest of the night wasn't going to be so easy. McLellan said so in the dressing room, and had no explanation for why that first intermission warning didn’t resonate.
“That is concerning for me because it was about as clear as it could be. The lack of response is a concern for me,” he said.
The Red Wings and Sharks are somewhat similar in that they are both attempting to integrate young players while remaining competitive. Detroit is a bit further along in that regard with its young core, and is currently a better team on paper than the Sharks, but McLellan predictably wasn’t letting his team off the hook for its lack of drive and focus for the final two periods of Thursday’s loss.
“[Detroit] was a lot more competitive than we were,” he said. “And you can rebuild, you can do whatever the hell you want, but part of all that is being competitive and having high expectations for yourself individually. Then, high expectations for your partner or your linemates, and then your teammates, and putting it on the line and living up to it day after day.”
He continued: “Call it what you want, but part of this transition is competing. It’s not about just finding younger bodies and putting them in. It’s about bringing it and providing it. And, we have some guys that need to pick it up. I think [Detroit] has done a better job than we have at this point, it’s safe to say.”
The Sharks remain in 10th place in the Western Conference. Time is getting short for them to correct their issues with just 20 games left on the schedule, and every loss will be magnified until they either clinch a playoff berth or are mathematically eliminated.
The way it’s been going, the latter seems much more likely than the former.
Couture said: “You can only talk so much, actions always speak louder than words. It’s time for us to go out and do something about it, not just stand here and talk about it.”
“We have 20 games left here before the end of the season, there is still a chance at the playoffs,” Wingels said. “Everyone has to approach and execute like it is a Game 7, game-on-the-line mentality. If we do that at all times and we have every guy buy into that, I think we will be fine. The question is, can we get everyone to buy in to that?”