SAN JOSE, Calif. – Coach Todd McLellan has been calling his San Jose Sharks a fragile team for a few weeks now, even with a record that puts them among the NHL’s elite.
After a resilient week of play culminated in one last avenging victory over the Dallas Stars, McLellan is hoping his team won’t need to be handled with quite so much care any more.
Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi snapped lengthy goal droughts, and the Sharks earned back-to-back wins for just the second time in nearly four weeks, beating Dallas 5-2 on Saturday.
Evgeni Nabokov made 23 saves to remain unbeaten since his return from injury, while Pavelski scored three points, and Joe Thornton added another timely goal.
The Sharks pulled within a point of Detroit for the overall NHL lead with their fifth win in six meetings with the Stars, who knocked them out of the post season last spring.
McLellan realized the Sharks were all but certain to come down from a 25-3-2 start that gave them the league’s best record for much of the season.
While San Jose’s place in the overall standings hasn’t changed much, the rookie head coach repeatedly pointed out a mental fragility that could signal the Sharks are unprepared for the rigours of playoff hockey.
In their latest meeting with a club struggling to stay in the playoff race, the Sharks were more than strong enough. Milan Michalek also scored, and captain Patrick Marleau added an empty-netter.
“We’re building on what’s transpired over the last week,” said McLellan, whose Sharks have won four of five after a four-game winless streak. “We slept a little bit early.
“The first 10 minutes, we weren’t the better team, but once we got ourselves into it and woke up a little bit, we were doing a lot of the things that we needed to do.”
San Jose avenged the Stars’ 4-1 victory at the Shark Tank earlier this month with a comprehensive effort highlighted by two sequences of rapid-fire goals.
Thornton and Setoguchi scored 29 seconds apart in the first period before Pavelski and Michalek got their goals 19 seconds apart in the second.
Pavelski ended a seven-game goal drought, while Setoguchi stopped a 12-game goalless slide that got him booted from the top line. It’s no coincidence that both skids ended after the young forwards were teamed on the Sharks’ second line with Michalek this week.
“Maybe it’s cleared my mind,” said Setoguchi, who spent most of the season on Thornton’s wing with Marleau. “It’s strange how your mind can get so clouded when things aren’t going well.
“Hopefully, I can keep it going from here.”
San Jose’s performance in a rare Shark Tank matinee wasn’t all positive. Defenceman Rob Blake left midway through the second period with a lower-body injury, and center Marcel Goc didn’t return after apparently injuring his leg in the third.
McLellan said both problems were “ouwees, not injuries.”
He expected Goc to miss Sunday’s home game against Colorado, but wouldn’t rule out Blake.
While San Jose is getting itself together, Dallas is falling apart.
Brad Richards returned to the Stars’ lineup after a five-week absence with a broken wrist, but Dallas’ third-leading scorer then broke his other hand in the third period, putting him out indefinitely.
Loui Eriksson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, who went winless on their three-game trip.
“You just have to get back at it and find a way to get points,” Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. “The times we looked good are the times we were pushing and rushing.
“The times we don’t look good are when we’re chasing. … I thought we were good early, and then we gave up the two quick goals and chased the game the rest of the way. We could never regain the momentum.”
Marty Turco wasn’t sharp while making 25 saves for Dallas, which is running out of time to make a playoff push with just 10 regular-season games to go.
The Stars are in a three-way tie for 10th place in the Western Conference, but a 4-10-1 slump has them in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 2002.
“We need to keep pushing,” said defenceman Stephane Robidas, who scored in the third period. “That’s a big two points to give up today. We have 10 games left and we can’t give up.”
Goc, the Sharks’ German checking specialist, needed help to get to the locker room with about 10 minutes left when he collapsed in a heap behind Dallas’ net.
Goc, who only returned six games ago from a lower-body injury that kept him out for a month, appeared to be favouring his left leg.
Notes: A turnover during a late power play allowed Marleau to skate unimpeded for a short-handed empty-netter, his career-best 37th goal. … The Sharks improved to an NHL-best 29-3-4 at home with their third straight win at the Tank. … Sharks regulars Ryane Clowe, Jeremy Roenick, Mike Grier, Tomas Plihal and Claude Lemieux already are sidelined by injuries. … Dallas C Brian Sutherby missed his first game since Dec. 20 with a lower-body injury.