SAN JOSE -- Three days off between games provided ample time for the Sharks to try to get their Jekyll-and-Hyde season back on track before their Saturday matinee at HP Pavilion against the Phoenix Coyotes.
But where to begin? Is it an oversimplification to focus on the power play -- 12 for 32 as San Jose shot to the top of the Western Conference at 5-0, then 1 for 21 as the Sharks went 2-2-1 over the next five games with both wins coming on shootouts?
"I don't think you're oversimplifying at all," coach Todd McLellan said Friday of his one special team that has been consistently strong over the years. "There are just ebbs and flows when it doesn't click as well, but it has to be better. It has to make a difference -- it did at the beginning of the year."
There are other issues, too. A league-leading 117 giveaways. Imbalanced scoring. A top line that has cooled off after a red-hot start.
But amid the darkness of a five-game stretch without a regulation win, there is some light: At Friday's practice, defenseman Brent Burns was paired with Brad Stuart, a sign that Burns is overcoming whatever mystery setback occurred in his recovery from hernia surgery last May.
"He's getting real close. I expect him to play soon," McLellan said.
As soon as Saturday?
"That might be pushing it," he added.
McLellan played down the significance of Burns being paired with Stuart, emphasizing instead that Burns participated in all aspects of practice. "He was physical today, he did every drill, he was involved in the penalty kill and power play part of it," the coach said. "That's probably a better indicator."
The Sharks see Burns as key to their blue line, but McLellan cautioned against expecting too much too soon whenever he returns.
"It doesn't matter how elite you are, if you haven't been playing since April of last year, it's going to take some time," the coach said.
In looking at the great divide over the first 10 games of the season, some Sharks say the rest of the league just caught up with them.
"I think it's part that every team's systems weren't ready at the start and the games were high-scoring," goalie Antti Niemi said. "Our defense was already pretty good at the start, and I think that made a difference. I think every team's d-zone is better now."
That might explain how the Sharks' top line of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski has been stifled as of late. The three combined for 36 points over the first five games. Since then, Pavelski has three goals, but Marleau and Thornton have just one assist each.
"There's no way we could keep up the pace we did in the first five, individually and collectively," said defenseman Dan Boyle, whose absence from two games with a bad cold is cited as one reason the power play dropped off. "The puck was going in, and now all of a sudden guys are cold. That's just the way it goes."
Longtime NHL defenseman and current TV analyst Bret Hedican said that pace also contributed to the fatigue -- physical in some cases, but mostly mental -- that caused the Sharks' game to taper off.
"Look at the calendar," Hedican said. "Eight games in (13) days, three games in four nights to end that. Mental mistakes they were making were just fatigue mistakes to me."
The one aspect of the Sharks game that defies their record as of late is the penalty kill. Struggling early while the team was winning, San Jose gave up five power-play goals in 14 chances over the first three games; since then, the Sharks are 31 for 31 when short-handed.
"It's been a total role reversal when it comes to special teams," said Logan Couture, who plays on both. "Obviously we need to score some more goals. The first little bit, I think teams weren't ready to play most nights. Now they are every single night. We need to be better in a lot of areas."
Phoenix (4-5-2) at Sharks (7-2-1), 1 p.m., CSNCA