CALGARY, Alberta -- This one was a big step backward.
The Sharks had managed to craft a four-game unbeaten streak despite their ongoing offensive struggles. But that skidded to a halt Wednesday night with a 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames that only accentuated the fact it has been 12 games since San Jose has managed to find the back of the net more than twice in regulation or overtime.
And that was what had defenseman Dan Boyle fuming and dropping the occasional expletive after the game as he talked about his team's inability to score.
"We've scored one or two goals the last 12 games. That's it. There's a lot of things that go into that, but that's it," Boyle said. And the particular game he just finished: "It just sucked from the beginning. It just sucked, I think."
Initially, Boyle didn't want to analyze the specific things contributing to the scoring drought, but then he took a stab at it.
"There's too many things across the board," Boyle said. "Pretty much everything you can think of goes into goal scoring -- whether it's X's and O's or effort. A lot of things go into that."
Third-period tallies by Flames forwards Blake Comeau and Jarome Iginla proved to be the difference. The teams had traded goals in the first two periods, Calgary's coming off the stick of Roman Cervenka and the Sharks tying it when Joe Thornton turned a Calgary turnover into his team's only goal. An empty-netter in the game's final minute by Flames forward Curtis Glencross completed the scoring.
"We're disappointed," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of the way the game developed. "We're 1-1, we have an opportunity to win one in the third period, and we didn't play very well in the third period, so we're disappointed."
And he said the coaching staff was as frustrated as the players about the lack of offense.
"We're all in it together. It's eating away at all of us," McLellan said before expanding on the coaching staff's role. "Keep working away at it, practice, power play, line combinations. It's what we do. We've got to keep going."
The game featured two goalies seeing action for the first time in weeks. Flames netminder Miikka Kiprusoff was getting his first start after missing 13 games since he sprained a knee ligament Feb. 5. The Sharks countered with backup Thomas Greiss, who hadn't played since Feb. 11, when he took the loss as part of a team-wide meltdown in that 6-2 embarrassment in Columbus.
Whatever inspiration the Sharks might have gotten from their 3-2 shootout win in Vancouver the previous night didn't show up on the ice.
The Flames were the first on the scoreboard at 4:27 of the first period when a shot by defenseman Jay Bouwmeester bounced off Greiss's pads and went directly to Cervenka in the left faceoff circle. Before Greiss could recover, the puck was behind him.
San Jose tied things up with the only goal in the second period when Patrick Marleau pressured Calgary defenseman Mark Giordano to cough up the puck behind his own net. Joe Pavelski took it from there and found Thornton skating right through the slot for a quick shot that beat Kiprusoff at 13:53.
But it didn't take long for Calgary to take control of the game in the third period.
Comeau got his first goal of the season at 2:57 when his shot from the right faceoff circle beat Greiss on the far side. Less than two minutes later, an attempted pass from Ryane Clowe to Douglas Murray deep in the Sharks' zone was broken up by Calgary forward Jiri Hudler, and Iginla fired a 25-foot wrist shot for his seventh goal of the season at 4:36.
"I thought the Comeau goal was a bit of a back-breaker," McLellan said. "I don't know if it was off a stick or not, but that put us on our heels a little bit. Jarome's certainly made us bend a lot more. We made a good play, but we don't handle the puck very well and it's poked off our stick and in our net. Turnover."
Greiss said he didn't feel the long gap between games was an issue and took responsibility for the goals -- even those caused by defensive breakdowns in front of him.
"It happens," he said of the mistakes. "It's my job to clean those up, but I didn't do it enough."
The Sharks tried to make it interesting when Comeau drew an interference penalty with 2:31 left in the game and McLellan elected to pull Greiss, giving San Jose a 6-on-4 advantage. But that only ended up giving the Flames the empty-net goal by Glencross with 55.7 seconds left.
Kiprusoff made 32 saves in the victory while Greiss stopped 23 pucks as his record dropped to 1-3.
Thornton's was the one voice that didn't seem to reflect too much concern about the loss.
"We had our chances, that's for sure," the Sharks captain said. "Going into the third, we felt like we were going to be the better team. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. ... Regroup and get ready for Saturday."
St. Louis (11-9-2) at Sharks (11-7-4), 1 p.m. CSNCA
For the latest news on the Sharks. go to www.mercurynews.com/sharks