Following Monday night's loss to the Vancouver Canucks, Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan played the role of good cop in his post game press conference, juxtaposing Ryane Clowe's statements that questioned the work ethic of some of his teammates. McLellan focused on the positives of the team's effort, citing the strides the team made after a rocky first period.
Tonight, he wasn't nearly as charitable.
"Depends which team you're asking about. The one that showed up for the first period or the one that showed up after that. You give that goaltender a three-nothing lead? Doesn't matter," McLellan said. "We're going in practice, work on net-play, and we give up the first one because we're soft. The second one we cheat, and the third one? We must have spent ten or fifteen minutes working on that play and it comes back to bite us."
That first period, which spotted Buffalo a pair of goals, proved to be San Jose's undoing as the night wore along and Ryan Miller showed HP Pavilion just why he's lauded as one of the best goaltenders in the entire world. The Sharks best opportunity to come back into the game came about halfway through the second period, where nearly six minutes of extensive time in the Sabres zone saw pucks being pumped to the net with a zeal unseen lately in San Jose. The opportunities were there in abundance, chances oozing out into the low slot in spades.
As Miller's 36 saves will attest to however, that late effort just wasn't enough.
"It's tough when Ryan Miller gets hot, he played well tonight," Sharks Captain Joe Thornton said. "But I thought our forecheck was much better [in the second period], we were hoppin', we got pucks to the net."
Buffalo opened up the scoring at the halfway mark of the first period, as a shot off the stick of Cody McCormick caused Antero Niittymaki to kick out a rebound up the middle. Luke Adam, who was causing ruckus in front of the Sharks net all night, pounced on the rebound and buried his shot. It was a play that Dan Boyle would like to have back considering he had lost track of his man during the rush up the ice, failing to clear him from the slot.
"We made two mistakes on their first two goals, obviously on the first one for a fraction of a second, that's my fault," Boyle said. "I just lost track of my guy for half of a second and it's in the back of the net."
The Sabres would strike again six minutes later off another broken play in the Sharks defensive zone. With a bevy of Sharks stacked along the boards in a battle for the puck, Jochen Hecht emerged from the scrum and drove to the middle with time and space. He made his shot count, burying a wrister top shelf to the far-side of Niittymaki, giving the Sabres enough insurance to withstand the barrage that lay ahead in the second.
But it was the first period that doomed the Sharks, as another slow start in the opening frame allowed the opposing team to set the tempo and find a rhythm. Buffalo came out with a chippiness to their game, laying on the body and hemming San Jose in early with a strong forecheck. Although Ryane Clowe would drop the gloves against Mike Weber twenty seconds before the first Sabres goal, laying down the law and restoring some order to some hits on Logan Couture he took exception to, that spark wouldn't result as a positive for San Jose.
The start of the second period was much of the same, as Dan Boyle's second penalty of the night (tripping against Mike Grier) put Buffalo on their third power play. A nice pass from Jordan Leopold from the point found Drew Stafford below the goal line, and Stafford's subsequent touch pass to Tomas Vanek in front of the net proved to be too much for the Sharks defense to handle. Vanek's shot would find the roof of Niittymaki's net, and effectively set things in motion for the rest of the night.
In other words, those last fifteen minutes of the second period were something to witness. San Jose came out of the gates following the third goal, peppering Ryan Miller with shots and scoring opportunities that just seemed to miss. From Couture's pass to a wide open Ferriero in front of the net, to Jason Demers equally impressive feed to Dany Heatley in the third period that bore witness to a brilliant post to post save by Ryan Miller, the Sharks threw everything they had at the Sabres.
As the final scoreboard shows however, it was all for naught.
Ryane Clowe was decidedly less vocal tonight after the loss, but McLellan's words cut like a knife. The growing frustration with a lack of full 60 minute efforts seems to be wearing on the entire city of San Jose, not to mention the locker room and coaching staff. As Clowe asked after last game, "It's unacceptable, and I guess we can say we're going to fix it, but when are we going to fix it?"
Sharks Captain Joe Thornton wouldn't give any clues as to what was said in the locker room-- Thornton responded respectfully, but tersely, to the question of what the leaders of the team were saying after the loss.
"No. Okay? Thanks guys," Thornton said.
Tonight, the frustration amongst the players stayed behind closed doors. But as McLellan's comments indicate, the frustration with slow starts, leads that have evaporated in the third period, and inconsistent results stemming from those underlying issues are definitely present in the locker room.
It will likely take some more harsh words in practice and behind the veil to inspire the play of the entire team-- as Dany Heatley's performance tonight will attest to, sometimes messages have a way of finding their way to motivate. Heatley pumped eleven shots on net tonight after being demoted to the third line, a Sharks franchise record for shots in a game. He looked strong and engaged in the play, creating opportunities and using his wicked shot to generate scoring opportunities.
But words can only go so far. Results are what matter, and with the Sharks halfway through their 2010-2011 season and still fighting desperately with eight other teams for the 4-12 seed, those results haven't been coming at the pace usually associated with hockey in San Jose.
Maybe the adversity will be good for the team down the road, when the sixty game mark hits and time begins to become a huge factor in the playoff push. Because at this juncture, the definition of adversity hasn't been anything more than what Webster's has to say on the subject-- a state of continued difficulty and adverse fortune.
It has defined the Sharks season.
Now is the time for the Sharks to begin to define it.