Programming note: Blackhawks-Sharks coverage begins Saturday at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE – When a team is struggling, the focus often shifts to the top players. They are, after all, the ones who are going to have to right the proverbial ship.
For the Sharks, who have lost three straight with just one goal in that span, the lack of production from some of the high profile players lately is staggering. Brent Burns has yet to score since Logan Couture had hand surgery 12 games ago. Patrick Marleau has two goals in his last 11, and three total since losing his linemate. He was on the ice for all four of the Flames’ goals in Thursday’s 4-1 loss, playing a season low 14:56.
The list continues. Tommy Wingels has one goal in 21 games, while Tyler Kennedy, currently out with a lower body injury, has managed just one goal in his last 26. On defense, Dan Boyle has one point, an assist, in his last 10 games.
The Sharks probably played well enough to win against Edmonton on Wednesday, accumulating 59 shots on Ben Scrivens in a record-setting performance by the goaltender, but earned their fate in defeats to Los Angeles on Monday, 1-0, and Calgary on Thursday.
If they can’t find a way to play better against high-flying Chicago on Saturday, they will get pounded.
Head coach Todd McLellan was plainly asked, what do the Sharks have to do to score? He began by saying the team has to convert on its breakaways and odd-man rushes, which have been abundant.
“Not creating much off of those situations. That alone has to improve,” McLellan said.
“Our blue line, we’re much more capable of generating offense from there, whether it’s jumping in at the right time, creating secondary opportunities at the net. We’ve had far too many shots blocked over the last four or five games. Those are areas that have to improve, [and] power play.”
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Chicago snapped a four-game losing streak on Wednesday in Vancouver, and has gained three of a possible four points against the Sharks this season.
San Jose won the most recent matchup, though, 3-2 in a shootout at United Center on Jan. 5. It was one of their better defensive performances.
While the Sharks’ inability to put the puck in the net has been glaring, McLellan doesn’t want the team to start losing its focus at the other end of the rink. San Jose was outscored 7-1 in Edmonton and Calgary on its two-game jaunt to Alberta, against the two worst teams in the Western Conference. That message was delivered in a lengthy morning meeting.
“When you’re not scoring three or four a night, you better be preventing,” McLellan said. “We haven’t been able to do that the last couple nights, as well.”
Perhaps a game against Chicago can help the club to wake up. The Sharks are 19-3-3 at home, where they will play their final four games before the Olympic break.
Shortly before the losing streak began, McLellan indicated his staff’s focus was to make sure the team didn’t take a mental break prior to the league shutting down for three weeks. Has that happened?
“No. I don’t think so. No, definitely not,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said.
Joe Pavelski agreed.
“No. I don’t think so. We were there in Edmonton, didn’t happen for us. You wanted to rebound in Calgary, it didn’t happen again. I think every coach is aware of that, and afraid of that. Guys are doing a good job. We’re here, we’re focused, we want to play a good game tonight.”
This is the third and final meeting between the two contending clubs, who would likely not see each other again until a potential Western Conference Final.
“We know that if we’re going to go to the Cup [Final], or make a run for it, we’re going to have to face these guys,” Matt Nieto said. “It’s an important test of us, and it will show our character. We are struggling right now, and if we get this win, it will show a lot about our team.”
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Antti Niemi will face Corey Crawford in net. Alex Stalock started the previous game in Chicago on Jan. 5 in recording the win, and Niemi is 5-6-1 with a 3.03 goals-against average and .907 save percentage against his former team.
Crawford is 4-2-2 with a 2.46 GAA and .916 SP career vs. San Jose. This season, he’s allowed just three goals against in 124 minutes against the Sharks (1.44 GAA, .944 SP).
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Kennedy said he might be an option to play tonight after missing the game in Calgary with a lower body injury, but morning line rushes suggested he would be out again.
Couture is likely to miss the final four games before the Olympic break, according to a team source. The Sharks have just 24 goals in the 12 games he’s missed, for an average of 2.00 per game.