SAN JOSE -- The loss was only their second in regulation and first on home ice, yet the Sharks have been doing a little soul-searching as they prepare for their five-game trip that begins Sunday night in Winnipeg.

That can happen when a team raises expectations, makes a convincing case that this season is indeed different -- and then lays a giant egg such as the 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks that had coach Todd McLellan questioning his team's work ethic.

Not that the players weren't already aware of that problem.

"It's been happening on more occasions than we'd like, and that's not acceptable," Brad Stuart said. "When it gets to the point that the coach has to address it, as players that's on us. We've just got to fix it."

The phrase "work ethic" sounds vague and catchall, but McLellan breaks it down to a numbers game.

"What I mean by that is you have to outnumber your opposition all over the ice, whether it's in d-zone or the offensive zone," McLellan said. "If they've got three, you've got to find a way to get four there. If you're not working to get there, you never get numbers."

With two practices between Thursday night's loss and Saturday afternoon's flight to Winnipeg, McLellan focused on the work ethic Friday and then 24 hours later had his players watch video of their mistakes against Vancouver and address the on-ice details.

"That's the order it has to happen," the coach said. "It doesn't matter -- we can shuffle lines, we can give them direction -- but if you're outworked, the odds on success diminish immensely."


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The Vancouver defeat was magnified by the fact the Sharks have now gone four games without a win and were 0-1-2 on a short homestand that included a shootout loss to a Buffalo Sabres team with the NHL's worst record.

San Jose's poor play goes beyond the turnovers by Tyler Kennedy and Jason Demers that gift-wrapped two Vancouver goals. Forty-eight, or 27 percent of the team's 175 giveaways this season, have come in the past two games.

Nobody talked as if the train had gone off the rails. But there was the recognition that much work needs to be done to return to the standard of play that earned the Sharks their 6-0 start.

"It's a commitment level," McLellan said, adding that human nature seeks the easy way to get things done, and that doesn't work in hockey. "So we have to keep reminding them and hounding them that the work ethic and work habits have to be there first, and then everything will take care of itself."

McLellan did not name names, but it was clear he was upset with his top players. Against Vancouver, the fourth line of Andrew Desjardins, James Sheppard and Mike Brown was San Jose's best -- reflecting well on them and poorly on everyone else.

The team could offer up the injury defense, that players such as Marty Havlat and Dan Boyle aren't at full speed, that the loss of Brent Burns is finally taking a toll.

But no one used that excuse.

"The guys that we brought in, we've won games with them," Patrick Marleau said. "Execution needs to be there. It doesn't matter who it is, you've got to get the puck in and get the puck out."

McLellan kept whatever lineup changes he might have in mind to himself. He did say that defenseman Matt Irwin, a healthy scratch the past three games, would play on the upcoming trip, though not necessarily in Winnipeg.

The nine-night trip continues with stops in Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton and Chicago. And Stuart knows the important questions surround the future, not that Vancouver loss.

"It's over," Stuart said. "What are we going to do? How are we going to respond to it? That'll be the true test for us."

For more on the Sharks, see David Pollak's Working the Corners blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PollakOnSharks.

Sunday's game
Sharks (10-2-4) at Winnipeg (7-9-2), 5 p.m. CSNCA