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EDMONTON Its been more than three months since the Sharks lost three consecutive games in regulation. Theyll try to avoid it again tonight in Edmonton against the struggling Oilers.
San Jose won its season opener handily against Phoenix before dropping its next three games, including two to Anaheim. Since that time, the Sharks have gone two in a row with no points in the standings just twice, including last Thursday against Ottawa and Saturday afternoon vs. Vancouver.
Youre going to lose games. Ive always stressed that its important not to lose the next one, Dan Boyle said on Sunday after the teams skate at Rexall Place. It is going to happen at times, but I think weve done a pretty good job of coming back after losses with a pretty good effort.
Thats not to say that they dont suffer after the losses, though. For Boyle, its not necessarily a bad thing to keep those disappointing feelings close for a brief time.
I think you have to feel it for awhile. Were all different, and some guys turn the page a little bit quicker than others. I think it does need to sting for awhile, but then you do eventually have to turn the page and move on, he said.
Head coach Todd McLellan doesnt want his team to dwell on any kind of streaks, good or bad. Instead, he wants the team to focus each game individually.
I dont want us to carry streaks. I dont want us to refer to numbers, because when we won nine of 10 we werent running around saying hey, we won nine of 10. Thats not how we operate, he said. I want us to play our game, and play sharp.
The team hasnt necessarily played its worst hockey in the two losses. Vancouver capitalized on its primo scoring chances in a game that could have gone either way on Saturday, including a bad bounce on the game-winning goal by Cody Hodgson late in the third period.
And, yes, the team was outplayed by Ottawa on Thursday night, but goaltender Antti Niemi played one of his poorest games of the season - a major factor in the 4-1 loss.
I want us to play how we did in Vancouver, believe it or not, and clean up a few areas, McLellan said. Not major changes, but I want us to be that competitive and execute as well as we did on the power play and the penalty kill, finally. I want us to clean up a few moments in a game that probably cost us.
San Jose has been able to avoid long stretches of bad hockey for a couple of reasons, according to the coach.
Leadership and maturity. I dont think theres a big sense of panic when we lose games. The sense of urgency goes way up, but there isnt a sense of panic. To come out of a losing streak you have to do it collectively. You cant do it as individuals. I think were learning that lesson as we move on. Well win as a group, and well keep losing as individuals."
After a strong start to the year in which they were among the NHLs best defensive clubs, the Oilers have fallen off the map and look like theyll be challenging once again for the top pick in the draft next June. In fact, the Oilers are just six points ahead of Columbus, in 29th place in the NHL standings.
Edmonton is just 1-7-1 in its last nine games, its lone victory a 2-1 win over the Kings in overtime on Jan 15. The Oilers are also coming off of an ugly 6-2 loss to Calgary in Saturday nights Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, and coach Tom Renney subjected them to a hard practice on Sunday.
Thats not the effort we want, especially against a rival like that, on Hockey Night in Canada, Taylor Hall said. Thats not the effort thats going to be needed to win any games this year. This morning was a result of that. It was a tough practice.
Forward Ryan Jones said: I think thats exactly what we deserved. Toms sending a message, and its well received.
While McLellan doesnt want his team looking at the standings when it comes to the Oilers, the Sharks are likely well aware that the Oilers are fading. That doesnt mean theyll take Edmonton lightly, though, since it gave San Jose a tough match on Dec. 17 at HP Pavilion a 3-2 Sharks win in which Patrick Marleaus third period power play goal was the difference.
They got beat up pretty good last game, and teams most of the time seem to come back from something like that and come together, and usually come out with a pretty strong performance the next time, Boyle said.