ST. PAUL – Despite losing four in a row in regulation for the first time this season to put what was a commanding division lead just one week ago in jeopardy, the Sharks apparently aren’t ready to hold any closed door meetings or shouting sessions with two-and-a-half weeks to go in the regular season.
There’s a modicum of distress with some aspects of their game, of course, following a 3-2 loss in Minnesota on Tuesday night. But they’re not as concerned as might be expected, if you believe the captain and the coach.
“To be honest, not that concerned,” Joe Pavelski said. “We’ve played games, they’re close games, a lot of these games are one-goal games. It’s such a fine line being on the winning side or losing side. I think we all understand we can be a little bit better.”
Pete DeBoer said: “When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned. We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”
The difference in Tuesday’s game, the Sharks' third straight by a single goal, was the start. The Wild, attempting to halt a five-game losing streak itself, had the puck in the Sharks’ defensive zone for the majority of the opening frame and early in the second, too. That was aided in part by the Sharks taking three minor penalties over the first 21 minutes.
Joel Ward’s avoidable neutral zone hooking penalty led to Matt Dumba’s power play goal midway through the first, and Dylan DeMelo and Joe Thornton took subsequent minors themselves. Playing in the second of a back-to-back against a rested opponent that would surely be fired up, the Sharks even discussed staying out of the box before puck drop.
“That was something that we talked about before the game that we can’t do tonight, especially considering the circumstances,” DeBoer said. “We didn’t want to tire ourselves out killing penalties or getting behind. We did that, so didn’t help ourselves.”
David Schlemko said: “We wanted to stay out of the box. Not the start we wanted. I thought overall the kill was pretty good, but they got one there and we’re playing from behind again, which is not ideal.”
Although they managed to tie it on Schlemko’s goal late in the second – ending a scoreless streak of more than 138 minutes – the Wild came right back with a pair of quick scores by Martin Hanzal and Charlie Coyle to claim a 3-1 lead.
Patrick Marleau’s aggressive forecheck and some miscommunication between Devan Dubnyk and Ryan Suter brought San Jose back to within striking distance before the intermission to cap off what was a furious sequence of four goals in a little more than one minute, two by each team.
DeBoer said: “We had earned that [Schlemko] goal. We played a really good period. We put a lot of pressure on them, I thought we threw a lot of pucks to the net. … It’s unfortunate that the next two shifts, they got two more.”
“We had a lot of good [offensive] zone time [in the second period], so we were feeling good about coming back,” Marleau said.
But the Wild locked it down in the third, surrendering just five shots to San Jose and forcing the Sharks into a number of turnovers as they tried to move through the neutral zone. Dubnyk’s most important save came with a little more than four minutes left, when he froze a Ward attempt as the big winger drove the puck to the net. That was essentially the Sharks’ only good chance of the final frame.
The Sharks will now get two days off now before returning to American Airlines Center for a game in Dallas. There’s a chance they won’t be in sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division anymore by then.
They’re not overly concerned about that, either.
“I’m more worried about how we’re playing,” Logan Couture said. “Try not to look at the standings, and worry about how we’re playing in here.”