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SAN JOSE – He didn’t use the catchphrase on Tuesday night, but Sharks head coach Todd McLellan often refers to winning ugly as “not a Picasso.”
The 5-4 conquest of Edmonton wasn’t a Picasso, a Monet, a Cezanne or a Pollock. Actually, by the Sharks’ standards, the win over the worst club in the Western Conference more resembled a third grader’s paint-by-numbers.
Sure, there was a sense of accomplishment for getting the required two points to remain in the Pacific Division race. But McLellan and many of the team’s veteran leaders showed concern for their overall effort and execution.
“We weren’t what we needed to be – giving up too much, sloppy, not really trusting each other to play the system,” said the head coach. “We’ve got to fix that quickly before the playoffs roll around.”
Captain Joe Thornton said: “You’re happy with the two, but we’ve got to tighten up a lot before the postseason. We have five games to do that. We’ll take the points, but we’ve got to play a lot better than that.”
The Sharks built up a 3-1 lead in the second period thanks to goals from Andrew Desjardins, Dan Boyle and Tommy Wingels. They seemed to relax at that point, though, and it cost them when the Oilers stormed back to tie it and eventually gain a 4-3 edge in the third.
At five-on-five, the Oilers looked like the stronger team for much of the night. The Sharks were saved by more than 12 minutes of power play time, even though they only cashed in once, on the game-winner by Patrick Marleau with seven-and-a-half minutes left in regulation.
“I think the intensity probably dropped a little bit. We’re up 3-1 against a team that’s not in the playoffs,” Boyle said. “Sometimes you take your foot off the gas a little bit. We had a let down there. We fought hard to battle back in the third. So, good things, and then things we could certainly work on.”
The game-tying goal came about two minutes before Marleau’s deciding marker. On the play, Joe Pavelski managed to reverse-kick the loose puck to an open Thornton, who fed Brent Burns for an easy conversion at 10:35 of the third period. The play is sure to make the team’s in-arena highlight reel at some point.
Pavelski is tied for the team lead in scoring with Thornton, who had two assists against the Oilers, at 74 points.
“Saw Jumbo, we talked – communication there. I was able to kick it to him,” Pavelski said. “He made kind of a nice little play quick, and then Burnzie was there.”
Thornton said: “It was great. We play soccer before the game, and a nice little play by Pav.”
Although Marleau’s goal came on a broken play when Burns didn’t get all of a slapper at the point, the power play continued to work well despite failing on six of its seven tries. Wingels’ goal came one second after a hooking minor to Mark Fraser expired early in the second.
“We’ve strung and put a few games together where we’re passing it around pretty well,” Boyle said. “We’re putting the puck in the net. That was a positive thing.”
“Five-on-five, we can’t give up that many goals. Coming down the stretch and especially in the playoffs, you can’t give up four goals and expect to win hockey games. We’ve got to tighten up defensively.”
The Sharks will remain at home for the week, hosting Los Angeles on Thursday and Nashville on Saturday. Now only two weeks from the playoffs, McLellan will try and get his club back to where it needs to be before the tournament commences and while a division title is still possible.
“I think this week’s important for us,” McLellan said. “We get a little bit of practice time, some opportunities to rest and then get ready again. Right now we’re still in a fight, which I think is good for us to stay focused and have that battling mentality. Some of that slipped over that last little bit, but we’ve got to get it back.”