Now, coach Todd McLellan wants them to accept that performances like their most recent one won't cut it.
The Sharks try to bounce back as they look for a sixth straight home win Thursday night against the Detroit Red Wings.
Already missing standout rookie Tomas Hertl since Dec. 19 due to right knee surgery, the Sharks (27-11-6) skated for the first time this season without Couture in Tuesday's 3-2 loss at Nashville. The team announced Wednesday that surgery was required on a lingering hand injury and no return date has yet been targeted for their fourth-leading scorer.
Despite goals from Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski against the Predators, McLellan said the rest of his team's effort in its first game without Couture wasn't good enough.
"They have to be elite, and we weren't at that level tonight," McLellan said.
"... Over the next little bit, our leadership group has to step up, and that starts with us as coaches. That's where the leadership starts. The four of us are going to have assume a big role and make sure our team is prepared and ready to play.
Marleau, Pavelski and the rest of the Sharks now shift their focus to a potential matchup against Jimmy Howard, who is 0-5-3 with a 2.95 goals-against average against the Red Wings' former Western Conference rivals in the regular season since Dec. 6, 2010.
Howard struggled for much of the first three months of the season, though he seems to be getting back on track after making 44 saves in a 5-1 win Saturday at Dallas as Detroit improved to 13-4-3 on the road to kick off a five-game trip.
He's allowed three goals in his last two games.
"When the clock struck midnight the other night to end 2013, I put everything behind me," Howard said. "I just said, 'Here's a new clean slate and let's start fresh,' and I've been trying to do that."
Howard blanked the Sharks in regulation on Oct. 21 in Detroit, but Couture was the only player to convert in a shootout as San Jose won 1-0. It stands as the only game the Sharks have been held scoreless in regulation this season.
Detroit (19-14-10) has had a lengthy injury report for most of the season, and Pavel Datsyuk's name is on it again. The Red Wings' leading goal scorer, who already missed seven games with a concussion, won't play Thursday due to a lower-body injury.
Defenseman Danny DeKeyser (groin) will return against the Sharks while Darren Helm (shoulder) is listed as a game-time decision. But backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson (groin) is out, and though Johan Franzen (concussion) returned to practice this week, there is no timetable for his return.
"We've been with the injury bug for a little bit, probably more than a little bit," forward Daniel Cleary told the team's official website. "We obviously have to get going here. We don't want to get too far ahead, but it's a pretty big road trip. We've played well on the road so far this season now we just have to keep it going. It'll be great for us actually."
With Datsyuk out against the Stars, Henrik Zetterberg picked it up with a pair of goals. He has six points in his last four games, though he's been held to one assist in his last five against the Sharks.
That has plenty to do with Antti Niemi, who is 3-0-0 with two shutouts, a 0.63 goals-against average and .975 save percentage versus Detroit since March 28.
Niemi is 11-2-2 with a 1.68 GAA in his regular season career against the Red Wings.