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Sharks slow start traced to mental errors

by Dan Rosen
WASHINGTON -- You could see the look of despair and of concern on each and every face.

One by one the San Jose Sharks somberly exited the visitor's dressing room at Verizon Center after Thursday's 4-1 loss, heading for the team bus and eventually up north to New York to continue their six-game, 13-night road trip. A Sharks' PR rep offered the game's stat sheet to Joe Thornton.

He refused, not wanting to look at the ugliness of the loss on paper.

Whether it's a carryover effect of last year's short playoff run for the reigning Presidents' Trophy winners we don't really know, but the Sharks, winners of just three of seven to start the season, are plagued by inconsistencies right now and captain Rob Blake believes he knows why.

"We haven't been good at all because mentally we're not engaged in the game," Blake told after stopping to chat on his way to the bus. "A lot of mistakes we watch in video aren't physical, they're mental. We need to fix that immediately. We can't let that linger."

Alex Ovechkin scored twice within a span of 28 seconds early in the second period Thursday, goals that ignited the Capitals and seemed to crush the Sharks. What bothered Blake the most were the eight shots Ovechkin didn't score on in the first period because they came as a direct result of five San Jose penalties.

"I mean, that guy is going to score his goals. He had, what, 13 shots? That's going to happen, but he had eight in the first period thanks to 10 minutes of power-play time," Blake said.  "There's the mental part; five penalties in the first against that team, you can't do that."

The Sharks actually got away with all of their infractions. Alexander Semin potted the only goal for the Caps during a 5-on-3 at 7:21, but Benn Ferreiro scored nearly seven minutes later and it was 1-1 after 20 minutes. The Sharks were only outshot, 17-13, despite the five power plays and Ovechkin's eight shots.

When San Jose needed to battle the most, it provided little to no fight at all.
"Our third period was terrible," Blake said. "That really bothered me because if they're up 3-1 their tendency is to just protect that, but we couldn't even get in the zone on our power play. With the five guys we have on the ice on our power play, that can't happen."

In trying to analyze why the Sharks seemed so lethargic in the third, Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said it probably had something to do with all of those penalties in the first.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic played 9:24 in the first. Blake and Dan Boyle were both over eight minutes.

"I think if anything they didn't have the energy to maybe push when they got down," Boudreau said.

Joe Thornton backed up Boudreau's analysis.

"I don't think we had too much gas in the third," Thornton said. "When you're in the box for 10 minutes in the first, it kills you for the rest of the game. We have been taking way too many undisciplined penalties to start the year so we've got to cut down on that."

At least that's a fixable problem. Mental problems always are.

The Sharks will try to correct them all in New York, where they play the Islanders Saturday night and the Rangers Monday before going to Tampa Bay, Atlanta and finally Philadelphia.

"You look at it and you watch it and you see how bad the execution was," Blake said. "It's not the skill. We've got the skill. It's not the physical part of it. We're seven games in, so we're all in shape. We're just not into it mentally."

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