McLellan: 'We're close, but we're not where we want to be'
Todd McLellan (top center) and the Sharks were searching for answer late in the third period against the Predators. (USATSI)
NASHVILLE – Poor starts aren’t something that the San Jose Sharks are used to. Not playing a complete 60-minute game, though, is something that’s becoming a disturbing trend.
On Saturday in Nashville, the Sharks didn’t have much early energy or jump, and trailed 2-0 after the second period. They fought back late and twice came to within a goal in the third, but the tying marker eluded them in their fifth loss in the last six games, 3-2.
“We weren’t good in the first,” Logan Couture said. “I thought obviously the third was our best period, but we can’t go down two-nothing. We need to be better.”
Typically, the Sharks have had to fight off teams that make a late push, as San Jose has held a 2-0 lead in 16 of its 33 contests. Against the Predators, though, the Sharks did eventually exert themselves and outshot Nashville 20-7 over the final 20 minutes.
A Dan Boyle tip-in made it 2-1 at 7:28 of the third, and after Viktor Stalberg’s wrist shot beat Antti Niemi later in the frame, Marleau redirected in a Boyle pass with about a minute to go to pull the Sharks to within one again.
On the next shift after Marleau’s goal, there was a mad scramble in front of goaltender Carter Hutton with about 30 seconds left, but San Jose couldn’t find the handle on a loose puck.
“It was bouncing around there, we were all around it, just couldn’t get a stick on it,” said Marleau, who was watching the action unfold from the bench.
At the other end, Stalberg’s goal beat Niemi with just two minutes and 39 seconds left in regulation to make it 3-1. Even though it came on a two-on-one rush, the shot was one that Niemi would like to have back.
Lately, the goaltender has been allowing some goals that he was routinely gobbling up earlier in the season. That includes a game-tying goal by the Islanders last Tuesday, allowing New York to come from behind and win in a shootout, and a Mikko Koivu shot in Minnesota last Sunday that was the game-winner in a 3-1 Wild win. Even in the win over Minnesota on Thursday, Niemi looked shaky at times, and McLellan said he "didn't have his A-game, by any means."
“I think I was in the right place,” Niemi said of Stalberg’s shot. “I think it hit the glove maybe, and went underneath. For sure, a big goal, a big time of the game. Good shot, too, but I’ve got to be able to make the save.”
“The third one, I’m sure he’d like that back,” McLellan said.
The Sharks ended a drought of more than 132 minutes without an even-strength goal, on Boyle’s tip from Matt Irwin in the third. All three of the Sharks’ goals in Thursday’s win – their lone victory in the last 10 days – came on the power play.
That will have to change, said Couture, whose team has just four even-strength goals in the last four games, including Marleau’s late goal against the Predators with Niemi pulled for an extra attacker.
“That’s the difference between the start of the year and right now,” he said. “We were scoring a lot five-on-five, and right now we’re not. It seems like on the bench we’re waiting for a power play, and we get on the power play, the power play doesn’t score, we’re back at it again waiting for another power play. We’ve got to go after them, and score some five-on-five goals.”
Another major difference is the Sharks’ ability to play a complete game, something they routinely showcased during a 10-1-1 start to the season. Since then, they’ve lost more games than they’ve won (10-6-5).
“We’re not using all the minutes to our advantage. It can’t happen that way. We play teams that do and we’ll be chasing it the whole night,” McLellan said.
“We had that in our game earlier in the year so it’s not like we can’t do it. It’s just, we have to.”