Sharks stuck in tailspin heading into game against Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- For months, the San Jose Sharks have looked like a sure bet for a top-three finish in the Pacific Division -- until now.

The Sharks (43-28-7) have lost seven of their last eight games, including the last two in a row, as they prepare to face the Vancouver Canucks (30-38-9) on Sunday at Rogers Arena.

Sitting in third place in the Pacific with a precarious one-point lead over the charging Calgary Flames, the playoff-bound Sharks are in danger of falling into a wild-card spot.

"We're looking to get back on the winning track," Sharks winger Mikkael Boedker said after a brief optional practice Saturday at the University of British Columbia. "I think we played two good games against two good teams. Yeah, we came up short both times, but I think we played some good hockey.

"There's some aspects of the game we didn't bring along with us but also some aspects we've gotta clean up -- just scoring some more goals."

The Sharks, who also appeared to have a strong chance to return to the Stanley Cup finals after losing to Pittsburgh last spring, have scored two goals or less in seven of the past eight games. All seven of those goal shortages resulted in losses, with the last two setbacks on the road in Calgary, where they lost 5-2 on Friday, and Edmonton.

What do the Sharks need to do better?

"Just keep reading off things and go to those areas where we've gotta pay the price," Boedker said. "I think it'll pay off and I think, hopefully, we'll come out with a win."

Coach Peter DeBoer is also looking for some improved goaltending. Usually strong defensively, the Sharks have allowed a surprising 25 goals in their past five games, which, accordingly, have been mostly one-sided setbacks.

"I don't think we're as bad as the scores indicate," he said. "Right now, we're not scoring, which compounds it and we're not getting the right saves, either, at the right times. When you're not getting a goal and you're not getting a save at the other end, (those are) the kind of scores that you get. So that's where we're at, that's our adversity, and we have to fight through that."

Top goaltender Martin Jones is also looking to fight through his personal adversity as the playoffs approach.

"We just need to execute better, (have) better execution, (be) a little harder to play against in our end -- and we need more big saves," Jones said. "I want to play better, for sure. I don't feel like I'm far off. But like I said, we need more big saves."

With the Flames and Anaheim also meeting Sunday, the Sharks need a win to stay in the top three. A victory would also help the Sharks stay in the race for top spot in the Pacific.

That might be difficult considering that they went 6-10 in March. But defenseman Brent Burns is confident that they can reverse their untimely losing ways. Everything, he said, is fixable.

"It just seems like those split-second reads and bounces are going the other way," Burns said. "It's a matter of working through those bounces, working through the reads. I think all year we've been a great team defensively.

"For two years, we've been a great team defensively. Nothing's changed. I've always said when things are going really well, there's no difference."

A win or a loss will not make a difference standings-wise to the Canucks, who have been eliminated from the playoffs. In an unusual move due primarily to the juggling of extra players, rookie defenseman Troy Stecher was shifted to right wing on the top line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin as the Canucks also worked out at UBC on Saturday.

"I was lost out there," Stecher said. "I screwed up my first drill as a forward, so I struggled a lot. I've never in my life played forward. I've always been a defenseman.

"(The Sedins) told me to go wide once, and that's what I did. I'm not allowed to cycle, so I just threw the puck around the net and let them do their work."

But Stecher, who will likely return to his usual position Sunday, still enjoyed the experience given his team's situation.

"It was good to have some fun," he said. "It lightened the mood, obviously, with everything that's going on. Games don't really count for anything so, hopefully, (Sunday), we can have a good performance."

The Canucks have lost 10 of their past 12 games. Noting that the Sharks will be hungry to bump their slump, Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins said it's important for his team to be ready and strive to play hard in meaningless games.

"But I'd like to get a win, too," Desjardins said. "It's one thing to give an effort every night, but it'd be nice to get a win out of it."

Sharks winger Jannik Hansen will play his first game in Vancouver since being traded from the Canucks on the eve of the NHL trading deadline. He is expected to receive a video tribute and warm welcome back from fans.

Canucks winger Loui Eriksson, out since March 5 with a knee injury could return Sunday.
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