DETROIT – With just four periods left to go on their road trip, the Sharks were in pretty optimal shape. They had already won three of their first four games, and were sitting in the visiting dressing room in Pittsburgh in the second intermission with a 2-0 lead after their best period of the young season.
That’s when it came undone.
The Penguins reeled off three straight third period goals to shock San Jose on Thursday night, and the Sharks concluded their trip by getting spanked by the Red Wings in a game that they were never really in on Saturday.
Still, it’s nothing to get alarmed about, and it was all too predictable that the Sharks might fade towards the end of the journey.
This year’s training camp, combined with a difficult road stretch so early in the season, has provided the kinds of hardships that aren’t typical in a normal season. The Sharks had a league-high five players in the World Cup of Hockey, including four on Team Canada and newcomer Mikkel Boedker on Team Europe. Those players didn’t even step on the practice ice in San Jose until Oct. 4, one week before the opener, and Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Joe Pavelski all played in just a single preseason game.
The Sharks got to open at home on Oct. 12, and played well in beating the Kings, 2-1. They’ve held just one full practice since then on Oct. 13, before getting on a plane to Columbus the next day to begin a stretch of five games in eight days while trying to adjust to the three-hour time change.
Head coach Pete DeBoer knows he has some work to do with his group, but he’s subtlety pointed out that conditions have made things a bit more complicated than usual. He’s right. In fact, before the Sharks lost to the Red Wings, DeBoer was content with the way the Sharks had performed to that point.
“Considering the circumstances, five of six to start the season on the road, and the World Cup, and not a lot of practice time – I actually think our game is in a pretty good place, in my mind,” he said after the morning skate. “We obviously have some things still to clean up, but overall I’m not disappointed with how we’re playing. Just got to keep improving.”
The Red Wings, game, though, was a stinker, and an argument can be made that the Sharks should have practiced on Friday. The result against Detroit is obviously exhibit 1A of that. After all, their plane landed in Detroit from Pittsburgh at 12:03 a.m. according to the flight log, giving the players plenty of time to sleep in their hotel beds before the day off. But as he’s almost always done since he took over the Sharks, DeBoer preferred to let his players relax. It was a rare miscalculation.
When they resume practice Monday morning, the power play will likely be a focal point. The Sharks have seemingly given up as many shorthanded chances as they’ve had chances to score themselves while up a man. They are 3-for-20 on the season, including an empty net goal and another on a two-man advantage.
DeBoer, though, indicated he’s going to give that familiar top unit a chance to work out its issues. That’s the right move, as that group simply hasn’t had any time to work together in non-game situations for the reasons already mentioned.
“When you look at the history of the group, I don’t have any doubt they’re going to have success,” DeBoer said. “There’s no doubt it hasn’t started the way we wanted. The puck hasn’t gone in and we’re pressing a little bit now, but that will turn around.”
Along with buttoning up their overall game, the Sharks will now turn to establishing their home ice as an actual advantage this season. At 18-20-3 last year, they had the worst home record of any team that made the playoffs.
Their first game was encouraging in that they played a complete game from start to finish against the Kings, and the atmosphere was decidedly playoff-like. Considering San Jose was a much better 14-10 at home in the playoffs, there’s reason to believe they will be much better there this season in front of a fan base that has some renewed enthusiasm that was lacking this time last year.
When it’s a packed house, SAP Center is still one of the loudest and most intimidating buildings in the league.
“The first game was a little season preview hopefully of what the whole year is going to be like – the crowd, the atmosphere there,” Chris Tierney said. You really saw in the playoffs how cool that building can get and how much of an advantage it can be. Really looking forward to getting back home.”
Logan Couture said: “We haven’t played very well throughout our first six games, so we’ve got to find it here soon.”
Coming home, practicing, and acclimating themselves to a much more normal day-to-day routine again should provide a needed boost.
SANTA CLARA – The 49ers split the playing time among three running backs Sunday with starter Carlos Hyde out of action due to a shoulder injury.
DuJuan Harris, whom the 49ers promoted from the practice squad on Saturday, saw his first action of the season. He played 26 snaps, the most of any of the 49ers’ running backs on Sunday in the team’s 34-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi's Stadium.
Harris had 39 yards rushing on 11 attempts. He also caught two passes for 18 yards.
Shaun Draughn played 23 snaps, while Mike Davis started but saw action in only 21 plays. Davis carried seven times for 21 yards and a touchdown. Draughn carried once for 16 yards and led the team in receiving with five catches for 37 yards.
Linebacker Gerald Hodges started for the first time since Week 3. He played 61 snaps, while Michael Wilhoite saw action on 13 plays after losing his spot in the starting lineup. Nick Bellore started alongside Hodges at inside linebacker and was on the field for 74 of the 49ers’ 75 defensive plays.
First-round draft pick DeForest Buckner played 73 of the 49ers’ defensive plays, an unusually high number for a defensive lineman.
Outside linebacker Tank Carradine did not play any snaps on defense. The 49ers signed him to a one-year extension at the beginning of the season that paid out a $1.25 million signing bonus. His cap figure for next season is $2.025 million. Carradine played seven snaps on special teams.
Here’s how the 49ers divided their playing time on offense, defense and special teams on Sunday in their 45-16 loss to the Bills:
70 -- QB Colin Kaepernick, LT Joe Staley, LG Zane Beadles, C Daniel Kilgore, RG Joshua Garnett, RT Trent Brown
61 -- WR Quinton Patton
56 -- WR Torrey Smith
54 -- TE Vance McDonald
41 -- TE Garrett Celek, WR Jeremy Kerley
26 -- RB DuJuan Harris
23 -- RB Shaun Draughn
21 -- RB Mike Davis
14 -- WR Aaron Burbridge
9 -- WR Rod Streater
4 -- TE Blake Bell
75 -- S Eric Reid, CB Tramaine Brock
74 -- LB Nick Bellore
73 -- DL DeForest Buckner
71 -- LB Ahmad Brooks
70 -- S Antoine Bethea
62 -- CB Rashard Robinson
61 -- LB Gerald Hodges
48 -- LB Aaron Lynch
47 -- DL Arik Armstead
41 -- DL Quinton Dial
40 -- CB Jimmie Ward
26 -- LB Eli Harold
17 -- DL Mike Purcell
14 -- DL Tony Jerod-Eddie
13 -- LB Michael Wilhoite
9 -- S Jaquiski Tartt
7 -- DL Ronald Blair
2 -- CB Keith Reaser
27 -- Dontae Johnson, Shayne Skov
21 -- Wilhoite
20 -- Burbridge
17 -- Streater, Purcell
16 -- Celek
15 -- Bell
13 -- Draughn
12 -- Bellore
11 -- Bradley Pinion, Davis
10 -- Dial, Tartt
9 -- Kyle Nelson, Reaser
7 -- Tank Carradine, Harris, Reid, Brooks, Ward, Harold
5 -- Phil Dawson, Robinson, Hodges, Lynch
3 -- Andrew Tiller, JaCorey Shepherd, Beadles, Staley, Brown, Garnett, Kerley
2 -- Blair
Did not play
QB Blaine Gabbert
C Marcus Martin
QB Christian Ponder
WR Keshawn Martin
CB Marcus Cromartie
RB Carlos Hyde (shoulder)
T John Theus
TE Je’Ron Hamm
DL Glenn Dorsey (knee)