SAN JOSE -– Considering what happened one month ago, perhaps it’s the perfect time to go back out on another lengthy road trip.
The free-falling Sharks dropped their sixth in a row on Saturday at SAP Center, 2-0 to the Minnesota Wild, and once again find themselves with more losses than wins (14-14-1). The last time that was the case they were 7-8-0, but promptly swept a six-game swing through the Eastern Conference that started on Nov. 13 in Detroit.
Instead of that being a turning point towards bigger and better things, the Sharks again look like an average-at-best club that has little chance of actually competing for a Stanley Cup this year, which is what they’re supposed to be doing after last year’s prearranged step backwards.
On Saturday it was just one mental lapse that ended up costing them, but it was an unforgivable one. In the third period of a scoreless tie, Brent Burns inexplicably vacated the front of the net where Zach Parise camped out, despite his partner Paul Martin already being high in the zone. The Wild’s lethal scorer could have baked a batch of his favorite Christmas cookies in the amount of time he had to corral a pass from Mikael Granlund, tip it off of Martin Jones’ pad, control the rebound and deposit the only goal of the game other than a late empty-netter.
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“I think just the three of us, the two D and the low forwards can't let that happen,” said Burns, whose minus-15 rating is the second-worst in the NHL.
DeBoer didn’t get into much detail about the winning goal, either.
San Jose Sharks
“We can break it down any way we want. They made some mistakes, we didn’t capitalize. They capitalized on one, [and] that was the hockey game,” said the coach.
Just like prior to the November road trip when they were mired in a stretch of eight losses in 11 games, there have been no overt signs or suggestions of panic and no public ranting and raving from captain Joe Pavelski – or anyone else – during the six-game tumble.
Perhaps that’s a good thing, as the team may truly believe it will once again snap out of it.
Or, maybe it's a sign that this is still a group that just doesn’t quite have what it takes emotionally to dig deep and overcome the kinds of challenges they faced on Saturday when the game was there for the taking. It could very well be the same old Sharks of yesteryear –- a club that plays fine when it really wants to, but melts when the temperature is turned up. The only difference now is this team doesn’t seem to be nearly as talented as those former clubs that flamed out in the playoffs.
What has to be done to snap out of the latest losing skid?
“You drop six in a row, it gets frustrating out there,” Pavelski said. “Everyone has just got to calm down a little bit and realize where we’re at. We’re right there.”
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“You have to start getting the job done. We all do. We’ve [played] games where we’ve worked and it feels like we could deserve a little better at times. But for whatever reason it hasn’t happened yet, so we’ve got to stay with it. That’s the biggest thing. There haven’t been any excuses from anybody in here. We still have got to take it to another level, though.”
The road trip will begin in Montreal, which currently owns the best record in the Eastern Conference, on Tuesday. A win there could go a long way towards starting another streak on the road.
But continue to come up small when the game is on the line, like they have been for the past two weeks, and the Sharks could find themselves at the bottom of the weak Pacific Division in short order. As it stands, they are just two points ahead of the last place Ducks and one point in front of Calgary and Edmonton, each of which has won five in a row.
The Flames and Oilers are young teams on the rise, while the Sharks are showing every sign lately of being a veteran team that’s in decline. Maybe even a sharp one.
“We were at a critical stage when we went on the road last time for a long trip and found a way,” DeBoer said. “We’ll find a way. We’ve got to regroup here.”