CHICAGO -- The Sharks are back home, so maybe time for an assessment of sorts now that this zig-zag of a road trip is in the rear-view mirror.
The Sharks went 3-1-1, grabbing seven of 10 points. Yes, they stole those two points in Vancouver, but, as Todd McLellan noted, they've had points stolen from them this season, too. No one ever said hockey was always fair.
But the bottom line is they picked up seven points, they started the trip five points behind Anaheim for the Pacific Division lead, they finished it just one point behind the Ducks. They similarly improved their status in the Western Conference, though that's less relevant because of the new method of seeding teams for the playoffs.
And they managed to do it without the two players -- it has become eminently clear -- that hold the key to their ultimate playoff fate. With Brent Burns and Raffi Torres, the Sharks are an elite force to be reckoned with; without them, they're still a good hockey team, but there are a lot of those in the NHL.
Torres showed his value last season. Burns? With him in the lineup, the Sharks were 7-0-1; without him, they're 6-3-4.
Which only makes the lack of information about the specifics of his injury all the more frustrating as it's hard to assess this team without knowing the likelihood he will be a factor going forward. Yes, we can all speculate about the problem because it's hard to see how a stick to the mouth would cause him to miss 13 games so far. Feel free. But I try to stay out of the speculating business when it comes to medical matters.
What we do know is that on Oct. 27, general manager Doug Wilson said in Ottawa that it was "fair to say" the injury to Burns was not expected to be long-term. That was three weeks ago.
And in Vancouver on Thursday, Todd McLellan indicated that it wasn't a case of Burns getting a little better every day. Burns, in fact, reverted back to the no-contact jersey after taking part in more physical drills at one point.
"There's days where I think he's really close and there's other days when you want to do some work with him and he doesn't seem able to do it," the coach said, though backing away from the term setback when that was suggested.
Joe Pavelski went big picture after the game, particularly unhappy because it's now been six games since the Sharks won at the United Center. He lumped the arena in with the Staples Center as two places his team needs to learn how to win if it's going to achieve its Stanley Cup goal and the point is well taken. That was the focus on the print edition story that you can find here if you haven't already read it.
Dan Boyle picked up on that thread, too, when Pavelski's comments were passed along.
"It's disappointing. We haven't won here in awhile," Boyle said (the actual date is Dec. 30, 2010). "You'd have to imagine we have to go through either or both of those teams to get to where we want to go. We've got to find a way. We'll get another chance here, and we have to find a way to get through the top teams at home."
McLellan chose not to go down that road.
"A loss is a loss," he said. "It doesn't matter if it comes against the Stanley Cup champs or anybody else. They're all disappointing."
This was the coach's overall assessment of his team's performance:
"When I look at the game, and I obviously haven't had time to rewatch it, we lacked a lot of energy that was needed to play in this type of game. When you don't have energy, you better be sharp mentally, and we may have been really poor in that area.
"There's a lot of teams that play against the Blackhawks and I'm sure the coaches will tell you the same thing, the turnovers kill you. If their d-men get to move the puck up the ice with their eyes up instead of turning, their counterpunch is incredible.
"We learned that lesson again. We didn't want to hear it, or didn't want to listen to it, or didn't want to buy into it. I don't know what it was, but we certainly played into their hands."
And captain Joe Thornton had a similar take:
"They have such a good transition game. Early on, I thought we did a good job but later in the game it just -- too many turnovers. Their d can zip it up real quick to their skilled forwards and they can make you pay."