SAN JOSE – For the still-winless San Jose Sharks, there is no such thing right now as leaving your problems at the rink.
“When I go home after a game or I’m sitting in a hotel room after a road game,” Sharks center Nico Sturm said, “it bothers me a great deal.”
“I’m coming home, I’m pissed off, just thinking about what I could have done and what we should have done,” Sharks winger Anthony Duclair said, “and thinking about the next game and how to get out of this.”
There are no easy answers for a Sharks team that went winless in October, has scored nine goals in nine games, and is now two losses away from tying the NHL record for most consecutive defeats to start a season with 11, shared by the 1943-44 New York Rangers and the 2017-2018 Arizona Coyotes.
Oh, and injured top-six forwards Logan Couture (lower body) and Alexander Barabanov (broken finger) will both be out for a few more weeks, at least.
But if there is any positivity to be had right now for the Sharks (0-8-1), it’s that after facing some NHL heavyweights over the first three weeks of the season, the strength of their schedule eases up, if only a little bit.
The Sharks open their homestand with games against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday and Erik Karlsson and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. While the Canucks are off to a 6-2-1 start, the Penguins are an unsightly 3-6-0, even with Karlsson’s six points in nine games.
That’s followed by games against the Philadelphia Flyers (4-4-1) next Tuesday and Connor McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers (2-5-1) on Nov. 9.
Hardly a walk in the park for a Sharks team that’s held a lead in just three of their nine games, but also not quite the murderer’s row they just wrapped up with five games against teams that won their respective divisions last season, and at least three other games against playoff-caliber opponents.
“We’ve just got to keep moving forward,” Sharks coach David Quinn said. “We can’t let one loss — or even seven — get in the way of our next game. We’ve just got to keep playing.”
If the Sharks are to avoid tying or setting a new league record for most losses to start a season, they’ll obviously need to find a way to score more than one goal per game, an average seen only once in nearly 70 years. The 2015-16 Anaheim Ducks also had nine goals in nine games, matching a mark set by that World War-era Rangers team.
Getting Mikael Granlund back helps solidify the Sharks down the middle, as now they have more of an experienced No. 2 centerman to play behind Tomas Hertl. Granlund formed an effective line with William Eklund and Luke Kunin on Sunday against the Washington Capitals, as the trio, per Natural Stat Trick, collected 11 scoring chances.
Now it’s about getting some other lines going, particularly the top line of Tomas Hertl, Fabian Zetterlund, and Duclair, who had an up-and-down game against the Capitals.
“It was one of those games where out of the nine, we could have won,” Duclair said. “I thought we played pretty well for the most part. Obviously, there were some breakdowns that cost us, which are going to happen against teams with some top-end skill.
“For us, it’s not just playing well in spurts, it’s playing a full 60 and I think we took a good step, but obviously not enough still.”
Tuesday’s practice was lively and competitive, with the Sharks split up into two groups, one in teal and one in white, playing games of three-on-three in small zones. Team Teal was down by three goals late in the proceedings, but scored four unanswered to win the contest, with the final goal setting off a wild celebration that mirrored a winner scored in a regular game.
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Team White had to do sprints up and down the ice as a result of coming up short.
Afterward, players were smiling and having some fun for a change and were maybe in a more positive frame of mind than at the start of the day.
“We want to keep the spirits high in here,” Sharks winger Mike Hoffman said. “You want to be having fun.”
“It can spiral really quickly,” Sturm said. “But everybody here cares, I can tell you that.”