SAN JOSE — The Sharks looked more out of sync than anytime this season Thursday night in falling to the Vancouver Canucks in a game that didn't seem as close as its 4-2 score.
And coach Todd McLellan had no shortage of places to point his finger in explaining why his team's nine-game winning streak against Vancouver did not reach double digits.
Work ethic? "When you're in the real world you work for eight hours, and when you're in the hockey world you work for 60 minutes," McLellan said. "We didn't even come close to that."
Forwards, the ones McLellan shuffled for two periods, looking for the right line combinations? "You're trying to spark guys, you're trying to find combinations, you're trying to send messages," McLellan said. "But, when you have a busload that didn't show up to play, it's pretty hard."
Goalie Antti Niemi, who was yanked early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots? "Nemo hasn't been sharp," the coach said. "He was like the rest of them."
It was their first regulation loss at home and only their second of the season. But the Sharks have now gone four games without a win — the kind of stretch they were hoping to avoid after their strong start — and their overall 10-2-4 record was of little consolation.
"No. No. That doesn't come to mind," Logan Couture said. "Look at the standings. We might even be out of the playoffs right now."
The Sharks even had the benefit of an early lead on a fluke goal by Joe Thornton and would later add a beauty by fourth-line forward Mike Brown. But before the game was half over, Vancouver had countered with goals by Brad Richardson, Mike Santorelli, Chris Higgins and Zack Kassian to chase Niemi.
The Sharks had already beaten Vancouver twice this season by identical 4-1 scores, so maybe this was a case of the Canucks being overdue. But San Jose was only blaming itself.
"When our best players aren't our best players, we're not going to win and that's what's been happening," Couture said, including himself under that heading.
San Jose started the scoring on Thornton's beyond-freakish goal at 1:17, a triple-bank shot that started out harmlessly when he shot the puck off the baseboards behind the Vancouver net. From there, it hit the base of the net, crawled up its back, flipped to the top and went in off Luongo's shoulder.
But the Canucks didn't let distract them.
At 4:28, Vancouver tied the score when Tyler Kennedy turned the puck over along the sideboards and Richardson's quick shot beat Niemi. A little less than five minutes later, Santorelli scored and the Sharks were trailing 2-1.
The Sharks came back to tie it at 10:45 when James Sheppard sent a perfect cross-ice pass to Brown and he had his first goal as a Shark. But a weak passing attempt by Jason Demers turned into a goal by Higgins at 18:55 and Vancouver carried a 3-2 lead into the first intermission.
Vancouver increased its lead to 4-2 just 5:22 into the second period when Kevin Bieksa's shot glanced off Kassian and into the net, prompting McLellan to yank Niemi in favor of Alex Stalock for the first time this season.