DETROIT In what was a much improved effort than their previous two losses to a pair of struggling teams, the San Jose Sharks showed up on Sunday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena, trying to put an end to the league-leading Red Wings NHL record home winning streak.
It didnt happen. Drew Miller had a goal and assist while Henrik Zetterberg and Darren Helm also scored in a 3-2 Detroit win, sending the Sharks to their third straight loss (0-2-1), fourth in five games on their current road trip (1-3-1), and sixth in the last eight (2-5-1).
And, even though the game could have easily gone the other way, with the calendar now showing late February the time for moral victories is over.
Its not a win. When you dont win a game youre frustrated, and were on a three-game losing streak right now, Logan Couture said. It isnt the time to do that. Teams are closing in and the playoff spot is getting tighter and tighter. This is obviously a tough rink to play in, but we need to start winning some games.
The level of desperation was completely opposite when compared with losses to Tampa Bay and Carolina earlier in the week, in which the Sharks seemed to lack focus and were generally not sharp.
Todd McLellan said: Were much happier with the effort, but its still a loss. We cant get caught up in satisfaction points. Points are points. But, the effort, commitment level to doing it the right way, to playing hard, to sacrificing, all went up from the last two games.
That includes goaltender Antti Niemi, who was publically challenged by McLellan following a 6-5 overtime loss to the Lightning in which he allowed six goals on 25 shots. Goaltender was much sharper, McLellan said.
San Jose (31-19-7, 69 points) still has the Pacific Division lead, but is just two points ahead of the surging Phoenix Coyotes (the Sharks have two games in hand).
Calgary and Los Angeles are tied for eighth in the Western Conference with 65 points apiece.
Its getting dicey.
We need wins. I know were first in our division right now but that doesnt mean much when youre only a few points out of the playoffs, Ryane Clowe said. Were looking for wins, not so much good efforts, but getting the points in the bag.
For the Red Wings, their record now stands at 23 wins in a row on home ice. The Sharks are one of just two teams to beat the Red Wings in their own building in regulation this season, back on Oct. 28, 4-2. Since a loss to Calgary on Nov. 3, though, Detroit is unbeaten.
The Sharks outshot the Red Wings 25-16 through two periods and had the better of the scoring chances up to that point despite trailing, 2-1.
Detroit held the territorial advantage to start the third, though, and got a key insurance goal from Helm. Miller gained control of the puck and brought it into the zone before finding Helm in the slot for a one-timer at 7:01.
Patrick Marleau brought the Sharks back to within 3-2 with less than five minutes to go. Ian White turned the puck over to Brent Burns at the point, and Marleau cleaned up the garbage in front of the net after Burns shot.
That was as close as the Sharks would get.
According to Clowe, the third period was a lot different of a period than the second when we had them hemmed in and had some chances. I dont know if fatigue played factor, and I dont think thats an excuse, but it was tough to give up that third one.
Injuries may have also played a part.
Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic was hurt early in the third, when he was struck in the face with the puck after a slap shot by Ian White deflected off of Dan Boyles skate. Vlasic, who was standing in the slot in the defensive zone, immediately crumpled to the ice and was bleeding heavily as he was helped off of the ice. He didnt return.
Vlasic was unavailable after the game, but McLellan was told the puck hit Vlasic kind of in the nose after it glanced off of his visor.
Moments after Vlasic went down, Joe Pavelski dove in front of a slap shot by Nicklas Lidstrom and was struck in the side of the helmet. Pavelski later returned after passing some concussion tests in the locker room.
You have to have trust in that system that hopefully nothing bad will happen, Pavelski said.
There was more. Colin White also missed a stretch of time after getting hit with a shot himself. That put the Sharks down two defensemen, and the club ran out of gas, but got it back at the end of the night, and couldnt find a way to get the third, McLellan said.
Zetterberg put Detroit on the board when he cut to the slot untouched and lifted a backhander through traffic and past Niemi at 6:30. The puck may have deflected on its way towards the net.
I saw it too late, Niemi said.
Detroit took that lead into the second period and increased it thanks to some fortunate timing. Johan Franzen stepped out of the penalty box as his hooking minor expired, and just as the Red Wings gained possession of the puck in their defensive zone. A three-on-two rush was the result, and Miller put in the rebound of a Justin Abdelkader deflection midway through regulation.
The Sharks didnt fold though, and outplayed the Red Wings for most of the second. Jason Demers, returning from nine-game absence with a lower body injury, was stopped by Joey MacDonald six minutes into the period when Demers had an open look from the circle.
MacDonald gloved a wrist shot from Couture on the power play just before Millers goal, and later robbed Joe Thornton on the doorstep after a nice pass through the slot from Burns. Burns also had a great chance himself after a strong move at the point resulted in a two-on-one rush with Jamie McGinn.
The Sharks were finally rewarded on the scoreboard with a power play goal at 14:33 when Couture got his stick on an airborne puck that was bouncing around the crease after Boyles shot from the high slot.
A short review confirmed the goal, as it looked like Thornton may have tapped it in with a high stick, but the video showed no conclusive evidence to overrule the call on the ice. Couture later said that after it hit his stick, Abdelkader put it in his own net.
San Jose drastically shuffled up its forward lines to start the game. Thornton played with regular winger Pavelski and Tommy Wingels, while Couture lined up with Clowe and Marleau. Newcomer Dominic Moore was between McGinn and Michal Handzus, while the fourth line was Andrew Desjardins, Brad Winchester and Torrey Mitchell.
The Sharks visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, looking for a season sweep of the NHLs worst team.
Odds and ends: John McCarthy was reassigned to Worcester before the game as Demers was taken off of injured reserve. The Sharks were 1-for-4 on the power play, and killed off all three Detroit advantages. MacDonald made 31 saves. Douglas Murray missed the game with a fractured Adams apple, and an update is expected within the next day or two, according to Todd McLellan. McLellan said after the game that hed like to see the Red Wings win the rest of their home games during the regular season. Why? Then the odds go against you, he quipped.