Sharks continue to take mental breaks

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Sharks continue to take mental breaks

SAN JOSE There are fewer than 20 games remaining in the NHLs regular season, and the Sharks are far from a sure thing to make the playoffs. San Jose (33-23-7, 73 points) is in seventh place in the Western Conference, with the surging Dallas Stars (71 points) and improving Los Angeles Kings (70 points) nipping at their heels.

Its not a position the four-time defending Pacific Division champions are used to.

Yet, for whatever reason, the Sharks seem to take mental breaks for long portions of games. Its been exactly one month, in fact, since the team put together back-to-back wins on Jan. 31 and Feb. 2. San Jose is 4-9-1 in its past 14 games since then, and if the playoffs started today, a first round flame out would be all but a certainty.

Against Buffalo on Thursday, it was the entire first half of the game. In the loss to Minnesota last Sunday, the team fell asleep late in the third period in surrendering a lead and a win. The night before against Nashville, the Sharks gave up a pair of odd-man rushes and were down 2-0 on the Predators first two shots of the game.

And thats just in the past week.

I think every year is different, and this year its definitely been a struggle, Joe Thornton said.

The brutal road trip in which the Sharks went 2-6-1 was obviously one the team would like to forget. There have been signs they are coming out of their funk at home, with a 1-0 win against the Flyers on Tuesday and a strong third period against the Sabres on Thursday in a 1-0 loss. Defensively, with one goal against in two games, its an improvement.

At the same time, one has to wonder why the urgency wasnt there at the start of the Buffalo game. The Sharks are in desperate need of a winning streak of some sort, and were trying to build off of a victory over a very good team on Tuesday. On Thursday, they were up against a club that, despite recent improved play, is likely to the miss the playoffs and was coming off of a hard-fought win in Anaheim the night before.

The Sharks had the day off on Wednesday, but 30 minutes into the game, they were the ones who looked gassed and lacked energy rather than the other way around.

Id like us to take control of games right away, but the truth is were playing an opponent. Theyre usually doing the same thing, Dan Boyle said.

So what can you do?

The one thing you can control is work. Thats the one thing weve got to elevate. Weve got to work hard. We cant cheat. Weve got to work, and then the talent takes over after that.

You look around this locker room, we have as much talent, if not more, than most teams in this league, but weve got to work. When we do that, were okay.

Boyle later clarified that he wasnt questioning the teams work ethic, despite insinuating that the Sharks do, in fact, need to work harder.

Sometimes its just a stride, man. Guys want to win. I dont see anybody in here that doesnt give a bleep. Sometimes its a stride. Its small. But, weve got to work.

Ryane Clowe thinks the team may have gotten a little bit comfortable earlier in the year, and thats why bad habits crept into their game during that February road trip.

Its not hard to see why. When the trip began on Feb. 12 in St. Louis, the Sharks had a three-point lead on the Kings and four-point advantage over Phoenix. They also had four games in hand on both clubs. It looked like a fifth consecutive division title was going to be a breeze.

Maybe we got a little comfortable there, Clowe said. Phoenix went on a hot streak and we found ourselves behind the eight ball, and then kind of decided to pick it up. Its tough to say.

But, the urgency now feels like its there. You dont want to wait until you get to 10 games left, or seven games, and feel like youre in the same position. You want to make a move now.

Clowe was adamant when asked point blank if the Sharks are too relaxed at a time of year they should be anything but.

No, not at all. Were ready, were focused. You dont want to go walking around on eggshells or anything, youve still got to be loose and play loose.

I think we realize weve got to get on a streak here, because were in no position to let anything slide.

NHL Gameday: Karlsson, Labanc return as fading Sharks host Rangers

NHL Gameday: Karlsson, Labanc return as fading Sharks host Rangers

Programming note – Sharks-Rangers coverage starts today at 7:00 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 42-26-7, 91 points, 2nd Pacific Division
Rangers: 46-26-4, 96 points, 4th Metropolitan Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***There are several different scenarios that would clinch a playoff spot for San Jose tonight, but the simpliset would be the Sharks beating the Rangers in regulation or overtime, or the Kings losing in regulation to the Oilers.

***The New York Rangers make their only visit of the season to SAP Center, where they will see a Sharks team that has reached its season nadir. San Jose has lost its last six games, all in regulation, and has been outscored 13-3 in a pair of blowout defeats to Dallas and Nashville.

Coach Pete DeBoer did his best to put lipstick on the pig that is the last two performances, both five-goal losses.

“A loss is a loss. Sometimes you’re better getting beat by five than one,” he said. “We lost, we’ve got to figure out a way to win. I don’t look at the numbers on the board, or the difference – a loss is a loss. A lot of times it’s better to get soundly beaten. [You don’t] fool yourself and lose a one-goal game that maybe you didn’t deserve to win.”

***DeBoer offered the following update on Logan Couture on Tuesday morning, after the center underwent a medical procedure on Monday.

“Status quo. It was dental work, and I don’t have a timeframe for when he’ll be back, but I’m confident he’s going to be back,” DeBoer said.

The Sharks are 1-0-1 in the two games without Couture this season.

***New York won the only other meeting between the Sharks and Rangers on Oct. 17 at Madison Square Garden, 7-4. They are 2-3-2 in their last seven games, including a 6-3 loss in Anaheim on Sunday.

The Rangers have the NHL’s fourth-ranked offense, at 3.13 goals-per game.

“If we play the top end teams like that that have speed, we’re able to shut them down if we manage the puck and we’re not turning it over, and keep that good gap through the neutral zone,” Paul Martin said. 

Marc-Edouard Vlasic said: “We’ve just got to get back to good breakouts and good forechecking.”

The Sharks will try to end a streak of seven straight games allowing the first goal.

***Kevin Labanc was recalled from the Barracuda. DeBoer wouldn’t confirm any lineup decisions, but it appears that Marcus Sorensen will come out. Melker Karlsson (out the last eight games with a lower body injury), Vlasic and Chris Tierney and will all play, too.

Labanc was reassigned to the AHL on Feb. 20, having not scored a goal in his previous 25 NHL games. He has 19 points (6g, 13a) in 49 games with the Sharks this season, and another 19 points (6g, 13a) in 19 games with the Barracuda.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Patrick Marleau. The forward has been one of the only Sharks players lately that’s actually doing something positive, with three goals in the last five games. Marleau will be playing center for the fifth time this season, and probably the foreseeable future, too, with Logan Couture out indefinitely. Whether he can handle the added responsibility could determine where the Sharks finish in the Pacific Division.

Rangers: Mats Zuccarello. The shifty Rangers forward has a three-game point streak, at least one point in seven of his last eight games, with nine points (3g, 6a) over that span. The 29-year-old Norway native also led the way in New York’s win over the Sharks way back on Oct. 17, with one goal and two assists.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Jannik Hansen – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Melker Karlsson – Patrick Marleau – Mikkel Boedker
Kevin Labanc – Tomas Hertl – Joel Ward
Timo Meier – Chris Tierney – Joonas Donskoi

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones (starter)
Aaron Dell

Rangers
Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – Mats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey – Mika Zibanejad – Rick Nash
Michael Grabner – Kevin Hayes – Jesper Fast
Matt Puempel – Oscar Lindberg – J.T. Miller

Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi
Marc Staal – Brady Skjei
Brendan Smith – Nick Holden

Henrik Lundqvist
Antti Raanta

INJURIES/SCRATCHES

Sharks: Logan Couture (face) and Micheal Haley (suspension) are out.

Rangers: None.

QUOTEABLE

“You’re not always going to start with the lead, and if you don’t, you’ve still got to stick with it. There’s two teams out there. It’s 50 percent chance you score the first goal, and if you don’t, you’ve got to stick with your game plan. If you get away from it, that’s when things go bad.” – Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Marleau back to the middle as Sharks deal with no Couture, Haley

Marleau back to the middle as Sharks deal with no Couture, Haley

SAN JOSE – All four of the Sharks’ lines have been in a blender for much of the season. 

Now, with Logan Couture out for at least one game and probably longer, and Micheal Haley getting tagged with a one-game suspension, the coaching staff has no choice but to mix and match the remaining forwards in time for Tuesday’s home game with the Rangers.

They’ll hope it’s the right recipe to snap out of what has been a miserable six-game losing streak in regulation, including the last two in which the Sharks have been outscored 13-3 by Dallas and Nashville.

The most notable player to be shifted is Patrick Marleau, who will apparently be centering the second line against New York. It will be just the fifth game he starts at center this season, and first since Feb. 11 in Philadelphia, when he was filling in for an ill Couture.

Marleau, of course, has played plenty of center over the years, including the second half of last season and first handful of playoff games when he was in the middle of the third line.

“I don’t think there’s been a year where I haven’t played center, so it’s just one of those things, move in and out,” Marleau said. “We’re interchangeable throughout the whole lineup, anyway.”

Marleau has been one of the few effective Sharks players lately, with three of the team’s last five goals. He has 26 goals on the season, third on the team, and is fifth on the Sharks in points with 44.

“Patty is playing great. I don’t think we could ask for more from him,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “Arguably a lot of nights this year he’s been our best forward. He’s playing hard, he’s playing strong. He’s been a real valuable piece for us. We wouldn’t be in the spot we’re in this year without him and the way he’s played this year.”

Marleau is set to skate with Melker Karlsson and Mikkel Boedker, as Karlsson is good to go after missing the last eight games with a lower body injury. The 26-year-old Swede is having a nice season with 19 points (9g, 10a) in 60 games.

The third line featured Tomas Hertl between Joel Ward and Marcus Sorensen, while Chris Tierney will center the fourth line with Timo Meier and Joonas Donskoi.

Karlsson, who confirmed he was ready to return, said: “Cooch is out, and we’ll see how long he’s going to be out, but I’ll do my best. I’m going to work hard, and hopefully can get going here.”

Marleau described Karlsson as “tenacious on the forecheck, causes a lot of turnovers. He’s hungry on that puck. He’s going to get his opportunities, and I’m sure he’ll put a few in the back of the net.”

* * *

Of course, the Sharks don’t care who scores the goals, just as long as it’s someone. It’s been a season-long issue for them to get their depth scorers to do more, and if they want any chance at reclaiming first place in the Pacific Division while Couture is out, that will be a necessity.

Among the players that will bring their scoring woes into Tuesday’s game will be Donskoi (no points 13 games), Hertl (no points in 12 games), Boedker (no points in 10 games), Ward (no points in six games), Sorensen (one assist in 10 games) and Tierney (one goal in 12 games).

Could Couture’s absence be a wake up call for those guys?

“I would hope it doesn’t take an injury to get that. That’s something we’re looking for, it’s something we’ve challenged the group to get more out of them,” DeBoer said. 

“They’re the first guys to recognize they’ve got to give us a little bit more. That’s been an ongoing process. The good news is they’ve all done it before. I feel that they all have the ability to raise their level another notch here before the playoffs. I think they have enough character that we’ll see that.”

Time is growing short, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in a little more than two weeks.

Marleau said: “When you go into playoffs, [secondary scoring] is usually what makes a difference. We need everybody contributing and guys stepping up at different times. We know that in this room, and guys are looking forward to doing that.”