Most teams spend this time of year trying to avoid the golf course. But the San Jose Sharks and the scratch golfer behind their bench have seemed downright eager for a tee time, while blowing a lead in all three of their losses to the Detroit Red Wings.
Yet Wilson remained mellow Sunday after returning home from a disappointing trip to Detroit, where the Red Wings took control of their second-round playoff series with a 4-1 victory in Game 5. It was the biggest margin of victory in an otherwise even series.
Though the Red Wings can finish off Wilson’s faltering club in Game 6 at the Shark Tank on Monday night, the coach isn’t certain what else he can do about his sputtering offence, his awful power play and a club that retreats into a shoddy defensive shell after taking the lead.
He’s just hoping his veteran players, outside of do-everything centre Joe Thornton, finally take charge against the Red Wings, forcing their teammates to overcome an inexplicable pattern of retreating with a lead.
“It’s not by design,” Wilson said. “It just seems to have happened. We’ve got to get our defencemen to be more aggressive. We give up a lot of space in the neutral zone, and the ice tilts. … We can prevent them from tilting the ice by playing hard for 60 minutes.”
Otherwise, San Jose is in danger of getting a reputation as one of those talented NHL clubs that can’t replicate a good regular season in the playoffs. Just like the Ottawa Senators – or these Red Wings from their 2002 Stanley Cup win until now.
“Whatever has happened in the past is in the past,” captain Patrick Marleau said. “We can’t look past (Monday) now. You’ve got to use whatever you can to get you up for this one, because there’s nothing after it.”
The Red Wings have a reason for desperation as well. They need to finish off this highly competitive series and clinch their date with the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference finals before they completely run out of defencemen.
Mathieu Schneider is out for the post-season after breaking his left wrist during Game 5 on an innocuous hit by Marleau. Brett Lebda won’t know until gametime whether he can play on his sprained left ankle. Niklas Kronwall isn’t close to returning from his injury.
“Guys are going to get opportunities to step up,” defenceman Chris Chelios said. “You can’t replace Schneids, the skills level of a defenceman like that, but we’ll have to pick up the slack.”
That check on Schneider was one of the few things Marleau has done well in the post-season, which is one of the Sharks’ biggest problems. Aside from Thornton, most of San Jose’s key contributors haven’t added much during the last two games.
Still, Detroit coach Mike Babcock isn’t sure his team has any real momentum despite winning three of the series’ last four games.
“You’d like to think that, but that hasn’t been the case in this series,” Babcock said. “It’s gone back and forth. We know it’s going to be tough. The starts haven’t been very friendly for us in the series. We have to do a better job of that.”
Sure, the Sharks have jumped to an early lead in four of the five games so far. But they’ve blown that lead three times, including a pair of two-goal margins in Detroit’s first two wins. San Jose’s forechecking, hard-hitting style ran a talented Nashville club out of the playoffs, but the Sharks haven’t played it effectively against Detroit.
“It’s in our heads,” Sharks forward Milan Michalek said. “We’re stopping on the forechecking, and waiting for them to come. We have to play our game and use our big bodies.”
Bill Guerin is unlikely to play for the Sharks in Game 6, though he’s back with the team sporting a nasty gash under his right nostril from teammate Christian Ehrhoff’s deflected shot in Game 4.
He’ll undergo a CAT scan on Monday before he can be cleared to return. But the trade-deadline pickup hasn’t been much help to San Jose anyway, failing to score a goal in nine post-season games.
“I just come and try to be positive,” he said. “I think we’ll be all right. We know we can play better. We’ve got a good team.”
If the Sharks still won’t listen to their coaching staff’s pleas after taking another early lead, Wilson hopes his club can study the Red Wings, who confidently finished off Game 5 after climbing out of an early hole.
“They’ve learned their lessons over the years about what it takes to get the job done in the playoffs,” Wilson said of the Red Wings. “I’ve been impressed with (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk. There’s things that our guys could pay attention to.”