Two worrisome losses in the first three games, a myriad of defensive zone breakdowns, questionable goaltending -- not the ideal backdrop for the night when the Sharks raise a Presidents' Trophy banner to the rafters at HP Pavilion.
But that's the situation they find themselves in as San Jose opens the home part of the 2009-10 schedule on Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Coach Todd McLellan wants an improved performance, and not just because this is the first time the teal-decked crowd gets a look at the Sharks' reconstructed lineup that includes All-Star left wing Dany Heatley among eight new faces.
"We don't want to play that way if we had to play in Timbuktu," he said, referring to Tuesday night's outing when the Sharks climbed out of a 4-0 hole, but still lost 6-4 to the Los Angeles Kings. "We are not happy with the way we played, and it doesn't matter where or in front of whom."
The banner commemorates San Jose's league-best 117 points for the 2008-09 season. The Sharks didn't lose a second game a year ago until they had six victories in hand, and the team went on to a remarkable 25-3-2 record by Dec. 15.
To be fair, the Sharks wedged an impressive 4-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks between the two losses. But problems that displayed themselves in the 5-2 opening night defeat in Colorado and Tuesday night's setback in Los Angeles were the focal point of a Wednesday practice.
"I don't think you can pick any one spot," captain Rob Blake said afterward. "Our goaltending, our defense and our down-low coverage weren't good enough last night and we generated five shots offensively in the second period. You can take pretty much any aspect of the game and it wasn't good enough."
Still, goalie Evgeni Nabokov has been in the spotlight for both losses.
In part that may relate back to Nabokov being outplayed by Anaheim's Jonas Hiller in the Sharks first-round playoff loss last spring. Also, Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson acknowledged a heated discussion over the summer with Nabokov, who is in the final season of a four-year, $21 million contract.
Nabokov, who was yanked a little more than halfway through Tuesday night's game, has an .846 save percentage this season that is among the NHL's poorest. But he is in good company, sandwiched between Vancouver's Roberto Luongo at .820 and New Jersey's Martin Brodeur at .849.
Nabokov acknowledges his play needs to improve -- "I know I'm there to make the save," he says, even when other things go wrong -- but he is trying to maintain the even keel emotionally that the late goalie coach Warren Strelow always emphasized.
These latest losses, Nabokov said, are really no different than the kind of stretches that occurred in the past -- though usually not at the beginning of a season. He said he still feels on top of his game, and doesn't see the need to make any adjustments.
"All I'm going to do is keep working hard," he said, "and hoping for a better fate."
Coaches are quick to say that opposition goals are rarely the fault of just one player. Instead, they generally result from a collective breakdown.
That's why McLellan and his staff reviewed video of the Los Angeles goals with players before they took to the ice Wednesday. A look at Los Angeles's third goal, for example, showed defensemen Douglas Murray and Kent Huskins could have done more to prevent the bang-bang play that saw Kings defenseman Jack Johnson deflect a waist-high puck past Nabokov.
Once the video review was completed, the team went to work on specific areas: net play, boxing out the opposition on rebounds around the crease and general communication.
"A little bit of talk," Blake said, "goes a long way."