The sharks have reached the turning point of their season. They will either be able to rally back from two atrocious defensive performances on this road trip and remain in the mix for a playoff spot or continue to spin things out of control.
After a 6-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, it looks like the Sharks are headed in the latter direction.
“It’s easy to say people aren’t working,” Sharks defenseman Brent Burns said Tuesday night. “It’s (more) execution and mindset, and we have to fix that fast.”
Going into Thursday’s game in Buffalo against the Cebres, the Sharks (17-16-1) are 11th in the Western Conference in terms of point percentage (.515) and three points behind the reeling Edmonton Oilers for second wild-card spot . ,
The Sharks have scored 28 goals in their last five matches.
Why is the remainder of this road trip in Philadelphia that ends on Saturday so important?
Starting with next Tuesday’s game with the Red Wings at the SAP Center, nine of the Sharks’ next 10 games before the NHL All-Star break are up against .500 so far. Seven matches against the teams are now in the playoffs.
This could easily change from HE-Double Hockey Sticks to January if the Sharks can’t correct course in a hurry.
“We need every single point,” said Sharks center Tomas Hertl, “and if we show up like the last two games, it’s going to be a long season.”
Highlights of Tuesday’s game.
Thin Rooster Exposed: The Sharks (17-16-1) didn’t want to use this as an excuse because nearly every team in the NHL has dealt with — or is dealing with — a COVID-related absence. But the truth is, the Sharks just aren’t deep enough to be missing their top-of-the-line center and one of their top-pair defensemen.
Sharks captain Logan Couture was placed in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol on Monday and his first game from the lineup was Tuesday at Little Caesars Arena. He is expected to miss the rest of the road trip, leaving a huge void in the group ahead.
Couture plays in all positions and leads all Sharks in average time on the ice, and is second on the team with 29 points from 32 games. The Sharks were also without defenseman Mario Ferraro for a second straight game, who missed three games while in protocol but could return on Thursday.
Both Couture and Ferraro regularly play against the top players on the opposing team; combined, they average over 21 minutes per game.
From the start of the season, it always felt like the Sharks’ roster was one or two impressive players away from being a legitimate playoff contender, and there are just a few players who just might not be ready to play the role.
Rudolf Balsers and Kevin LaBlanc deal with injuries and things start to look really bleak.
“Some teams can lose three or four players and they don’t score a single bet. They are the better teams in the league, the elite teams, and we are not,” Boffner said. “It means we all have to come together and try and explore a little bit more and play a little smarter and a little harder. That didn’t happen.”
Power Play Misfire: The Sharks went 0-for-three in the power play on Tuesday and are now only 1-for-16 in their last seven games. San Jose entered the NHL on Tuesday at 18.1 percent on Man Advantage.
Of course, not scoring in the power play on Tuesday wasn’t the Sharks’ biggest sin. This would allow the Red Wings to trail two soul-sucking shorthand goals 3-0 in the span of 37 seconds in the second period.
Pius Sutter scored on the breakaway and Tyler Bertuzzi added another goal at Wings 2-on-1, taking a pass from Carter Rowney and defeating James Reimer.
There was a general lack of urgency with Man Advantage on Tuesday as the Sharks finished with just five shots on goal in 8:12 of power play time.
“I thought our power play guys worked on penalty kill by penalty killer,” Boffner said. “We made some dumb decisions with the puck on the Blue Line, grumbling, playing on the safe side of things after that incident.”
Goalkeeper Issues: Reimer played so well in the first eight weeks of the season that he covered some of the Sharks’ defense woes. Now that he’s back on Earth for a bit, some of those warts are revealing.
Reimer closed 20 of 24 shots on Tuesday and has saved .830 percent and 6.04 goals in four matches since the Christmas break. It’s not all his fault, but it is a sign that the Sharks really need to score great goals if they are to keep chasing the playoffs.
Edin Hill may get the green signal on Thursday. He allowed two goals for seven shots on Tuesday in his first NHL game since being in COVID protocol, and the Sharks are in dire need of a good game. Hill is 2-4-0 with a .897 savings percentage since the beginning of December.
“I think it starts with our goalkeeper,” said Boffner. “I think we should aim better. I think our defensive game should be better. Power play, special teams, everything.”