Sharks trying to right ship before playoffs

March, 23, 2010

The NHL playoffs are still three weeks away, but for all intents and purposes, they start tonight for the San Jose Sharks in Minnesota.

A six-game winless streak (0-5-1) has punctured serious dents in the armor of the Sharks, who hit rock bottom -- they better hope -- with a 5-1 loss in Edmonton on Sunday night against the NHL's basement-dwellers.

Of course, the Sharks thought rock bottom was an 8-2 rout to the Stars in Dallas last Tuesday night. In between, there have been lots of meetings, lots of talking and plenty more losing.

"We've talked a lot about it," Sharks coach Todd McLellan told on Monday. "I think everybody understands what needs to happen and what needs to be done. I don't think there's any grey there. Words are not going to bring us out of this, it's going to be actions."

The point has come and gone for meetings, echoed veteran Sharks captain Rob Blake.

"That's done now," Blake told "We have to execute that on the ice."

Execution. The Sharks had no issues with that for most of the season, playing great hockey as they challenged Washington and Chicago for first overall in the NHL. Now, they're not even first in their own division. The desert-hot Phoenix Coyotes, winners of nine straight, have a one-point lead atop the Pacific, reeling in the Sharks after the Olympic break.

San Jose's power-play unit, first overall in the NHL for most of the season, has dropped to fourth thanks to a 2-for-20 stretch during the six-game winless streak. At the other end, goalie Evgeni Nabokov has carried over his Olympic struggles, and his teammates haven't helped him much as the Sharks have been lit up for 26 goals over those six games.

"Eight days ago, we were the top team in the league as far as goals-against average, but I'm pretty sure we're not there right now," said McLellan, whose team has slid to ninth in goals against per game.

Simply put, the Sharks have lost their mojo.

"If you look at our lineup, if we're willing to compete and we're willing to engage mentally and physically in a game, we're going to be very tough to beat," said Blake. "And we've proven that, we've done that during the regular season. We did in the regular season last year, as well. We need to get back and find that."

Back to basics, said the coach.

"We're chasing the game, I think is the best way of putting it," said McLellan. "We're not sure if we need to play well defensively or if we need to open up offensively, and as a result, we're doing neither. So I think we've got to go back to the basics and take care of our end.

"We're probably going to win 2-1 before we win 5-4. We're going to do it collectively, we're sure not going to do it individually."

San Jose's tumble has caught the attention of pundits everywhere. The team's well-documented playoff struggles over the past few seasons follows the team around like oversized baggage. "Uh oh ... here they go again," is what people are saying.

"We're going to hear that, I know," Blake said. "But this isn't same team we had last year. We've got eight or nine new guys. Our main focus from Day 1 was to come out of the regular season and put ourselves in a playoff position. Now if that becomes the first seed, or the fourth seed, or whatever seed, you have to get into the playoffs and you have to be playing well.

"We've got 10 games left to get in game order so we can head into the playoffs [on a stronger note]."

It may very well be that losing the top seed is not the worst thing in the world for this team. Going into the playoffs under a little less spotlight might just be what they need. Or maybe the demons of springs gone by are coming back to torture the men in teal. We'll soon find out.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer


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