SAN JOSE There are fewer than 20 games remaining in the NHLs regular season, and the Sharks are far from a sure thing to make the playoffs. San Jose (33-23-7, 73 points) is in seventh place in the Western Conference, with the surging Dallas Stars (71 points) and improving Los Angeles Kings (70 points) nipping at their heels.
Its not a position the four-time defending Pacific Division champions are used to.
Yet, for whatever reason, the Sharks seem to take mental breaks for long portions of games. Its been exactly one month, in fact, since the team put together back-to-back wins on Jan. 31 and Feb. 2. San Jose is 4-9-1 in its past 14 games since then, and if the playoffs started today, a first round flame out would be all but a certainty.
Against Buffalo on Thursday, it was the entire first half of the game. In the loss to Minnesota last Sunday, the team fell asleep late in the third period in surrendering a lead and a win. The night before against Nashville, the Sharks gave up a pair of odd-man rushes and were down 2-0 on the Predators first two shots of the game.
And thats just in the past week.
I think every year is different, and this year its definitely been a struggle, Joe Thornton said.
The brutal road trip in which the Sharks went 2-6-1 was obviously one the team would like to forget. There have been signs they are coming out of their funk at home, with a 1-0 win against the Flyers on Tuesday and a strong third period against the Sabres on Thursday in a 1-0 loss. Defensively, with one goal against in two games, its an improvement.
At the same time, one has to wonder why the urgency wasnt there at the start of the Buffalo game. The Sharks are in desperate need of a winning streak of some sort, and were trying to build off of a victory over a very good team on Tuesday. On Thursday, they were up against a club that, despite recent improved play, is likely to the miss the playoffs and was coming off of a hard-fought win in Anaheim the night before.
The Sharks had the day off on Wednesday, but 30 minutes into the game, they were the ones who looked gassed and lacked energy rather than the other way around.
Id like us to take control of games right away, but the truth is were playing an opponent. Theyre usually doing the same thing, Dan Boyle said.
So what can you do?
The one thing you can control is work. Thats the one thing weve got to elevate. Weve got to work hard. We cant cheat. Weve got to work, and then the talent takes over after that.
You look around this locker room, we have as much talent, if not more, than most teams in this league, but weve got to work. When we do that, were okay.
Boyle later clarified that he wasnt questioning the teams work ethic, despite insinuating that the Sharks do, in fact, need to work harder.
Sometimes its just a stride, man. Guys want to win. I dont see anybody in here that doesnt give a bleep. Sometimes its a stride. Its small. But, weve got to work.
Ryane Clowe thinks the team may have gotten a little bit comfortable earlier in the year, and thats why bad habits crept into their game during that February road trip.
Its not hard to see why. When the trip began on Feb. 12 in St. Louis, the Sharks had a three-point lead on the Kings and four-point advantage over Phoenix. They also had four games in hand on both clubs. It looked like a fifth consecutive division title was going to be a breeze.
Maybe we got a little comfortable there, Clowe said. Phoenix went on a hot streak and we found ourselves behind the eight ball, and then kind of decided to pick it up. Its tough to say.
But, the urgency now feels like its there. You dont want to wait until you get to 10 games left, or seven games, and feel like youre in the same position. You want to make a move now.
Clowe was adamant when asked point blank if the Sharks are too relaxed at a time of year they should be anything but.
No, not at all. Were ready, were focused. You dont want to go walking around on eggshells or anything, youve still got to be loose and play loose.
I think we realize weve got to get on a streak here, because were in no position to let anything slide.