SAN JOSE – The Sharks and Penguins have surely heard the phrase “Stanley Cup hangover” plenty of times since training camp began.
Metaphorically speaking, the surging Penguins look like they’re regularly tucked in before 10 p.m., well rested and energized. The Sharks look like they stayed out too late and downed a few too many Fireball shots.
Despite concluding a four-game, nine-day road trip, Pittsburgh hammered the Sharks on Saturday night at SAP Center, 5-0. It was the first appearance for the Penguins in San Jose since they lifted the Stanley Cup here on June 12, and while they look primed to try and do it again this season, the Sharks are flailing.
“A lot of hard areas of our game, we're just a step behind right now,” Joe Pavelski said.
The Sharks’ start wasn’t necessarily a bad one, as they trailed 1-0 but had a distinct territorial advantage for more than eight minutes in the opening frame. The equalizer never came, though, and Sidney Crosby scored late in the first period and again early in the second.
San Jose essentially packed it in after that, looking decidedly sloppy and uninspired for the duration of the second, while the Penguins tacked on two more scores to make it 5-0. A meaningless third period followed.
“We came out of the first, I thought the play was even, or in our favor. The third goal was deflating, for sure,” Pete DeBoer said. “But, in this league you’ve got to find a way, and our response to that wasn’t what any of us wanted. That was probably the troubling part tonight.”
In a 3-0 hole after Crosby’s two scores, DeBoer was forced to pull Martin Jones. The Pittsburgh captain managed to bank it in off of Jones’ skate from behind the goal line for his first of the night, while the second was aided by a misplay by Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who flubbed an attempted clear right to Crosby’s stick blade.
The switch to Aaron Dell was partly to try and jolt the team to life, but it was also because Jones wasn’t at his best, DeBoer explained after the game.
But Jones, who now has just a .900 save percentage, is hardly the only Sharks player struggling. The list is long, and distinguished.
Logan Couture has just one assist in his last seven games, no even strength goals, and can’t win faceoffs. Shutdown defender Vlasic is a minus-3, while his partner, Justin Braun, is a team-worst minus-8. Joel Ward (1 goal) and Paul Martin (2 assists, minus-4) look like they're slowing down. Mikkel Boedker (2 goals) has had little effect since joining in the offseason. Chris Tierney (2 assists) was supposed to take the next step in his development this year, but hasn’t.
On Saturday, Couture let the Sharks off the hook for just one of their five goals against. To him, they were mostly preventable.
“They played well, but you look at the goals. A misplay on the first one, turnover. Sid was behind me on the second one. Third one was an unlucky bounce. We gave up a shorty; guy (Bonino) beats one of our guys (Patrick Marleau) to the net.
“That's not speed, or talent. That's wanting to compete, battle and be in the right spots. Play the game smart. That's what that is. We're way better than that.”
There’s time for them to get it together, but it had better be sooner than later, as the Sharks now embark on a difficult six-game road trip beginning on Tuesday in Washington.
“We’ve got some guys that are not at the levels they need to be at yet,” DeBoer said. “It’s early, but it’s time. The season starts to really pick up speed here. We’re obviously going on the road for some critical games. We all have to be better.”
Couture said: “To a man, everyone on this team knows they have another level to give right now.”