By Curtis Pashelka
SAN JOSE – The San Jose Sharks might get top-line forward Alexander Barabanov back from injured reserve Tuesday when they open a four-game road trip against the New York Islanders.
Sharks coach David Quinn will take any help he can get, especially after seeing his team score just six goals in four games. But he also doesn’t want to let everyone else off the hook for what’s been one of the worst starts in franchise history.
“As much as it’s going to be great to have him, the 22 guys we have here, they’ve got to look in the mirror and just be a little bit better,” Quinn said of Barabanov after the Sharks’ 5-2 loss to the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday. “They don’t have to think about anything else.
“I know they’ll do that. I have a lot of faith in them, and I have faith in our leadership group and our captains that will get this right.”
But do the Sharks players have enough faith in themselves right now?
Their confidence has been shaken after they’ve blown a lead in each of their last three games to fall to 0-4-0 for just the third time in 31 seasons. In their four straight losses, they’ve been outscored 9-1 in the second period, as solid starts gave way to bad puck management and questionable defensive efforts.
Saturday, a 2-0 Sharks lead after 20 minutes turned into a 3-2 deficit after 40. The Blackhawks in the second period scored quickly after they killed a San Jose power play, and added two others while shorthanded, thanks to some keystone cops-like defense by the Sharks around their own net.
“Our second periods haven’t been good since the first game in Prague. I think that’s pretty obvious,” said Sharks defensemen Erik Karlsson, who had a goal and an assist Saturday but was also on the ice for the two shorthanded goals.
“We have more character in this room than we show on the ice, and it’s unfortunate. I think today’s game hurt a little bit more than the other three maybe, and it’s going to be up to us how we respond to this, and what we do about it.
“Win or lose on Tuesday, over the course of 60 minutes, our effort has to be a lot better.”
The Sharks’ top two lines so far have combined for just three goals and none in the last two games.
Timo Meier, desperately needed to be an offensive catalyst, has just one assist and is still without a goal despite 19 shots on net. Meier had a plus/minus rating of -3 on Saturday in 17:43 of ice time, his lowest total of the season. Tomas Hertl has been held without a point since he scored the Sharks’ first goal of the season.
Third-line forwards Nick Bonino, Oskar Lindblom and Matt Nieto have combined for one assist.
Perhaps the biggest issue on offense for Quinn, though, has been the performance of the power play, which is 1-for-16 through four games.
A case can be made that if the Sharks had scored another power-play goal in their second game against Nashville, and just once with the man advantage against Carolina and Chicago, they could easily have three wins right now.
Instead, they’ve matched the winless starts of the 2019-2020 and 1993-1994 Sharks teams through four games. The 1993-1994 team began the year 0-8-1.
Quinn liked how the Sharks’ power play looked in the preseason but that it’s been far too loose the last two games.
“I think it’s a little bit maybe immaturity,” Quinn said. “Maybe they want to score so badly, they just don’t make the simple plays and are maybe not consumed with the process and the basics of what a successful power play does.
“We’ve got to get back to doing the things we were doing early on. We felt good about the direction of our power play through training camp and through the exhibition season, and once the regular season started, especially in these last two games, we’ve really cost ourselves.”
Maybe Barabanov can help on all fronts. Quinn said he’ll look at making changes to the top line and if Barabanov returns to that role, that gives the Sharks coaching staff another chess piece to move around and perhaps help slot other forwards into proper positions.
The Sharks will take anything they can get right now.
“They have to play better. We all watched it, and they all know it, they’ve got to play better,” Quinn said of his top players. “And they will. These guys are high-end players, and it’s early in the season, and we can’t let tonight get in the way of Tuesday.
“You’ve got to stick to it. You can’t abandon what you need to do to be successful, and I’ve got a lot of faith in our team.”
Source: Paradise Post