ST. LOUIS -- The second half of the Sharks' abridged 48-game schedule begins Tuesday night at the Scottrade Center against the St. Louis Blues, and if you want a damning statistic that reflects their worrisome season to this point, this is it:
Of the Sharks' last 19 games, only two ended up as regulation wins.
What do you say to that, Todd McLellan?
"We're taking wins any way we can get them," the Sharks coach responded Monday before floating out a stat of his own. "You can say two wins in the last 19 games and I can say seven regulation losses in 24 games. One sounds great, the other one sounds awful."
He wasn't finished dissecting his team's 11-7-6 record.
"It's the six number that's tough -- the six shootout and overtime losses," he said. "If you can find a way to win those, you're sitting at a 17-7 record, which isn't bad. We're that close a lot of nights."
True enough. Still, if it weren't for the team's 7-0-0 start that included five more regulation wins, the Sharks would be on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs. Instead, San Jose continues to be in the mix -- part of the tight Western Conference pack forming behind the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks.
The Sharks have accomplished their main offseason goal by tightening up a penalty kill that finished 29th in the NHL for 2011-12 and now is the league's third best with an 86.8 success rate. And goaltender Antti Niemi has improved his play, shaving nearly a half-point off his goals against average to 1.96 and boosting his save percentage from .915 to .932.
The problem is that two weeks into the season, the Sharks lost their offensive touch. They averaged 4.6 goals a game to that point -- and haven't scored more than three times in one game since.
Breaking down those offensive numbers further:
"It's frustrating," acknowledged Clowe, who does have eight assists. "Anyone on the team who has no goals right now will tell you the same thing." Still, he added, "I think my game is where it needs to be without any goals -- whatever that means."
McLellan offered a similar assessment but didn't let Clowe off the hook.
"We need him to score goals. I'd be an idiot to answer it any other way," McLellan said. "But he can bring other ingredients to the game -- he's physical, he finishes checks, he takes care of teammates, he's an emotional guy -- you know, sometimes too emotional. He certainly brings some energy."
Overall, the Sharks have only six goals from their blue line -- a drop-off from years past.
Those first five games of the season turned out to be a false positive. The reality of life in the Western Conference this season is that teams are playing tighter defensively than in the East. And so far, the Sharks are buying McLellan's message that they can't slight defense to pursue offensive chances.
"If you're cheating and pressing because you think you have to score more goals, you give up more goals," defenseman Brad Stuart said. "And that's not how we're going to win."
General manager Doug Wilson said he does recognize that lack of offense is a problem but publicly treats it as a collective situation, likening team offense to team defense.
And he has until the April 3 trade deadline to figure out if the answer lies outside the organization.