Sharks head north in search of answers after fourth consecutive loss

SAN JOSE - You'd think the loss to the Sabres would be the worst -- and for some, it was. You're supposed to beat Buffalo, after all. It's the in thing to do. That's what most teams are doing.

But it was the loss to the Vancouver Canucks Thursday night at the SAP Center that was most concerning: a flat-footed, lifeless performance, at least through the first two periods, in which the Sharks squandered an absurd gift goal to start things off, and were beaten not by the Canucks' loaded up first line, with the Sedins and Ryan Kesler skating together, but the two lines beneath that, which have neither Sedin nor Kesler and are, thusly, far less formidable.

The Sharks were outshot 34-24, which includes a 17-5 shot discrepancy for the Canucks in the second, and after surrendering four goals on 13 shots, Antti Niemi was pulled for the first time this season.

The loss ended a streak of nine consecutive wins over the Canucks, but that streak is neither here nor there in the face of the other streak: it was San Jose's fourth straight loss.

We've seen this film before. In the 2012-2013 season, the Sharks famously opened the campaign with seven straight wins, then turned around and rattled off seven straight losses. It was like they suddenly became a different team. Is it happening again?

Admittedly, things are a bit different this time around. This season, the Sharks won their first six before seeing the third column tainted with a shootout loss to the Dallas Stars, and then they simply returned to winning. Until this current stretch, which includes losses to the Kings and Coyotes -- in overtime and the shootout, respectively -- the club had yet to drop consecutive games.

Now it's at four, including three straight at home, and the loss to Vancouver is evidence they're still going in the wrong direction.

“It’s been a couple tough games, giving up four goals against and not being able to win for a while," said Antti Niemi, whose performance during the losing streak, which features a 4.09 goals-against average and an .842 save percentage, has some wondering if he's feeling overworked.

"He hasn't been sharp," Todd McLellan said. But McLellan wasn't happy with the effort he saw from the rest of his team either.

“It’s about the work ethic and the commitment. We were clearly outworked. 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. We didn’t even come close to that.”

Captain Joe Thornton, meanwhile, was sensing a pattern. "That’s twice we kind of stink up the joint in the first and second and have a good third [...] We’ve got to be better in the first two. It starts there.”

It had better start soon. The Sharks are two losses away from matching their win streak to start the season, and with their longest road trip of the year, a five-game swing through Western Canada, they picked a bad game to start slumping.

No one in San Jose is panicking just yet, however. After all, if faced with a choice between a Western Canada road trip and, say, the California trip the Canucks are currently on, all 30 teams would choose the one that includes a stop in Alberta. On the one hand, this could be a very well-placed road trip -- a chance for the Sharks to refind their game against some inferior competition.

But heaven help them if they don't. A loss to the Jets, or worse, the Jets and the Flames, might send a few fans rushing for the panic button. Granted, it seems far-fetched that the Sharks -- the Sharks! -- could lose to either of these teams, but after the poor outing versus the Canucks and that unexpected loss to the Sabres, San Jose suddenly look a little less invincible.