Programming note: Devils-Sharks coverage starts tonight at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California with Sharks Pregame Live (territory restrictions apply)
SAN JOSE – Considering the circumstances on Saturday, it was inexplicable the way the Sharks came out comatose and unemotional against the Flames.
Although they fought back to take an eventual second period lead, the start was the biggest reason the Sharks lost 4-3 in overtime to a team that is desperately trying to track them down in the Pacific Division standings.
Expect San Jose to come out harder against the lowly Devils, a team that’s unlikely to make the postseason and has had to rely on washed up Sharks castoffs like Marty Havlat and Scott Gomez to play big minutes in their top six.
“We’ve talked about it, we’ve stressed it, and now it’s time to do it,” Todd McLellan said. “We’ve shown in the past we can really get on our toes and play hard very early in the game and establish the lead and push teams out of a game. Or, we can sit back and let them dictate which direction the game is going to go.”
Logan Couture said: “Especially at home, I remember playing years with this team where we’d jump on teams in the first 10 minutes of the game. The game would sometimes be over after 10 minutes. We’ve got the talent and the skill in this room to do that again, and we need to start.”
The statistics regarding the Sharks’ first periods are concerning. Since Nov. 6, San Jose is a combined minus-18 in the opening frame. In the first 13 games, the Sharks outscored their opponents 14-1 in first periods.
The Sharks are 16-3-2 when scoring first, and 8-13-4 when allowing the first goal.
It will be up to the team’s so-called catalysts to set the tone early. That includes Tommy Wingels, who is back skating on the second line with Couture and Patrick Marleau.
“The onus is definitely on the players, and there are a couple guys in particular who can maybe spark the team more than others and whose responsibility it is to do that,” Wingels said. “That group will try to do it from the get-go.”
McLellan said: “The catalysts have to step up, but I think there’s more to give from others as well. The first rotation through, you’ve got to be prepared and ready to go.”
Better team defense will also be a focal point. The Sharks have allowed 35 goals in their 11 games since the Christmas break, or 3.18 per game.
Lately, the Sharks have struggled with maintaining a strong presence in front of their own goal crease, including on the Flames’ Sean Monahan’s overtime goal on Saturday.
“You’ve got to be strong in front of your net,” Couture said. “You saw last game we gave up some goals in front of our net. Our net play is something our coaches have preached all season. When it’s not where it needs to be, that’s usually why we’re losing games.
“Mentally, getting in shot lanes, blocking a shot – if you watch a lot of our games, you can see when guys want to get in the lane and when they want to get out of the way. I think a lot of it is just wanting to play defense.”
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The Sharks will be playing in front of Alex Stalock, who will make just his third start in the last 16 games.
“You’ve got to stay sharp in practice, and that’s the biggest part for me, is working hard and practicing and getting the work in I need to get in,” said Stalock, who is 5-4-1 with a 2.43 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. “Hopefully, it translates into a good game.”
Former Canucks goalie Cory Schneider is expected to start for New Jersey.