The San Jose Sharks are hoping that their play coming out of the All-Star break is nothing like their last time.
After all, the last break we saw Team Teal emerge from had them dip into their worst losing streak since 1997, losing eight of 10 games. Blowing late game leads and failing to close out games were some pretty ugly marks during the stretch. Losing two home games to Eastern Conference teams currently out of the playoff mix wasn't pretty either.
With just two Sharks attending the All-Star festivities, the rest of the team comes into the contest ready to ward against the type of collapse they endured after the Christmas break.
The Sharks know that another slide like that one could end the hopes of any return to the postseason in the ever-tightening Western Conference.
"We have to learn from our last one," coach Todd McLellan said Monday. "Obviously the Christmas break didn't do anything for us. We took the 48 hours off and then came back and decided we needed a few extra days. We have to learn from that. We don't have any time to find our way. We have to be producing off the bat."
Truer words could never have been spoken by the Sharks head coach as the Sharks find themselves in a three-way tie for seventh place in the Western Conference. After posting a second best regular season NHL record in the past five seasons, the Sharks find themselves in unfamiliar waters.
The Sharks are currently sixteen points off of their pace from a year ago and have their worst record entering February since 2006.
The Sharks failed to record what would have been a season high five game winning streak by dropping a close contest to the Kings just before the break. And while the talk is all about continuing to play hard and give the effort, it's time the Sharks dropped the puck and let their actions do the talking.
In other words, the Sharks would do well to forget about playoff positioning and the luxuries they have enjoyed in years past, and concentrate on making the playoffs.
Although both Dan Boyle and Logan Couture were not expected to make the Monday practice, they were both present and participated in the Monday skate.
"In the past, we've been comfortably in first, or at least comfortably in the playoffs," McLellan said.
"We were worrying about different things at that point—the fatigue factor, injuries, home ice. That's not the case now. We have to compete for 32 games."
While many think that the team may reverse their fortunes by having to play to get into the playoffs, they cannot lose focus on the goal at hand. And with the volatile state of the Western Conference, missing the playoffs is still a very real possibility given the teams they are sandwiched between.
Every game within the Western Conference really becomes a must-win at this stage of the season; I mean, even the Calgary Flames are back in the race for goodness sake.
The Sharks begin their stretch drive against the sixth place Phoenix Coyotes at HP Pavilion on Tuesday. The Coyotes are currently three points ahead of the Sharks and are looking to get their game into gear as well.
The Coyotes are just one point out of fourth place and have a five-game road winning streak under their belt. They've also lost the last four home contests, so this game has the makings of a good one.
The Sharks will be tested and need to get these two points before embarking on a seven-game road swing highlighted by stops in Anaheim, Boston, Washington and Nashville.
Antti Niemi figures to get the start against the Coyotes with Antero Niittymaki being removed from IR, but still not ready to play. Niemi has been solid if not spectacular just before the break posting a 1.94 goals against average over the five games. Niemi has posted a 1.50 goals against in the two victories over the Coyotes this season.
Logan Couture will look to extend his point streak that started against these very same Coyotes in a 4-2 win on Jan. 17. The Sharks will celebrate Patrick Marleau's 1,000th NHL game, which was also on the same date.
“You don’t really think about it too much until it actually happens,” Marleau said of reaching 1,000 games. “Then when it does you start to think back about all the people you played with and all your family and the support you’ve gotten over the years. It’s humbling in a way.”
After falling just short in the Western Conference Finals a year ago, the Sharks were looking to take one more step this year and make it to the Finals. While this season has been less than impressive, the players and pieces are still all here to make some noise in the playoffs and it all starts Tuesday.
"This is our push here," defenceman Dan Boyle said. "It starts a little earlier this year, 30 some games left. They're all going to be important from here on out. This is a very long road trip and it can kill you or make you. We'll be together quite a bit off the ice so hopefully we can come together as a team off the ice and on the ice and put a good string of wins together"