Kurz: 'The power play is really hurting'
Scott Gomez falls during the third period of the Sharks 5-3 defeat to the Blackhawks on Tuesday. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
SAN JOSE – After a historic start to the season, the San Jose Sharks are trending downward.
A five-game winning streak out of the gates has given way to a string of five straight games without a regulation win. The Sharks won two shootouts to move to 7-0-0, lost in a shootout to Nashville, and have now dropped their last two games to Anaheim and Chicago.
For the first time since Jan. 24, the Sharks (7-2-1) aren’t even in sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division, as the red-hot Anaheim Ducks (7-1-1) can now stake that claim. The Sharks and Ducks both have 15 points, but Anaheim has a game in hand.
“I think the first five were probably not the norm,” Dan Boyle said. “I think we’re going to see more of what we’ve seen the last five games, which is tight-checking and not a lot of space. That’s kind of how the game is now. We’ve been on the short end the last three.”
The discrepancy in some of the statistics from the first five to the last five is a bit alarming. San Jose blew through the opposition by a score of 23-8 in going 5-0, and is getting outscored 12-9 since then. A power play that converted on 12 of its first 32 chances (37.5 percent) is now just 1-for-21 over the last five games (4.8 percent). The Sharks are allowing 2.40 goals per game as opposed to 1.60, and they’re averaging nearly five fewer shots.
To be fair, the Sharks are only a few bad breaks away from still having a perfect, or near-perfect record. The shootout against the Predators on Feb. 2 could have gone either way, an unfortunate bounce in the third period led to the game-tying goal by the Ducks on Monday on the way to a 2-1 loss, and the erroneous match penalty on Andrew Desjardins was the turning point in the 5-3 loss to Chicago on Tuesday.
Perhaps that’s why there didn’t seem to be much panic in the Sharks’ dressing room on Thursday.
“Things are getting a lot tighter now, as you get video of other teams and other players,” said Tommy Wingels, who had a goal and an assist against Chicago. “That’s how I expect games to be the rest of the season. Close, hard fought battles from the drop of the puck.”
Joe Thornton said: “It’s just getting more competitive and competitive. I think people had time to get the special teams going, and things like that, but it’s just getting [to be] better hockey now.”
Thornton and Patrick Marleau’s numbers, in particular, paint a picture of just how much things have changed. That dynamic pair combined for 26 points through the first five games (13 each), but have just one point apiece in the last five. They are both scoreless in the last four games.
“[Opponents] know that our top six forwards are very skilled, so they’ve got to be aware and not turn pucks over,” Thornton said. “Early on, the power play was going, and now it’s a little bit stale. We are working on that, and that will get us going again.”
McLellan said: “I think you go through ebbs and flows in the season. They both were, and are, very well conditioned, to start with. They had a jump on a lot of teams. The power play clicked really well, so they got a lot of points and production in that area. That hasn’t been going as well.”
The head coach kept Thornton and Marleau apart in line rushes during Thursday’s practice, as Thornton remained between Ryane Clowe and Joe Pavelski. Marleau, who still has a league-leading nine goals, skated on the wing with Logan Couture and James Sheppard.
“We’ve also split them up a bit to get some other guys going,” McLellan said. “It’s the toughest thing we have as coaches, to try and come up with combinations that work.
“Sometimes they’ll look at us like, ‘what the hell are you doing? We’ve been clicking along,’ but it’s about the group and not the individuals, and sometimes we have to make those decisions.”
After giving the team a complete day off on Wednesday following the back-to-back, the Sharks spent more than an hour on the ice on Thursday taking advantage of one of just two three-day breaks they’ll have during the condensed season. They will try and end their three-game losing streak on Saturday afternoon against Phoenix, before leaving town for a six-game road trip.
Boyle said: “There’s something to be said for getting away. I think the day off yesterday was probably welcome and needed. We flipped the page. We played 10 now, and [now we] start a new block.”
“We got to push the players a little bit more than we have in the past,” McLellan said. “We’ll get another day like that tomorrow, and hopefully that will help our game as we move forward.”