Sharks' strong start fading in difficult stretch

  • Buffalo Sabres' Cody Hodgson (19) scores the game-winning goal past San Jose Sharks' Antti Niemi, of Finland, during the shootout of an NHL hockey game on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, in San Jose, Calif. Buffalo won 5-4. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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.

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