McLellan: 'We had a lot of passengers tonight'
The Sharks came in to Staples center Saturday riding high after a 4-3 win on Thursday night at HP Pavilion. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
LOS ANGELES – The good feelings from the Sharks’ win over the Kings on Thursday dissolved as quickly as the morning fog over the beaches of Santa Monica, a short drive away from the Staples Center.
On Saturday in Los Angeles, most of the Sharks looked dazed and confused from the opening faceoff until the final buzzer in a 5-2 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champions.
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“If you don’t have an A game, you have to have a B game. Tonight, some guys had their D game, and at this level, it just can’t happen against these elite teams,” Joe Thornton said. “Just too many guys didn’t have their A or B game tonight.”
Todd McLellan was more blunt.
“How freakin’ disappointing is that? We played against the Stanley Cup champions back-to-back, we’re lucky enough to win one in San Jose, and we come here. You’ve got to think they’d be champing at the bit and be ready to go, and what a great opportunity for our team to test themselves collectively, but also individually.
“Do I belong in the NHL? When I look across, can I outplay the guy that I line up against? We had a lot of passengers. So disappointing. So disappointing.”
Some of the culprits were obvious. Scott Gomez was a -4, and at one point in the second period, looked like a wide receiver alligator-arming a pass through the middle when Kyle Clifford was bearing down on him for a hit. Justin Braun was a -3, turning the puck over numerous times in the first period and letting Dustin Penner get behind him on Clifford’s second period rebound goal. Andrew Desjardins lack of hustle getting back on Clifford’s marker, which made it 4-1 and chased Antti Niemi, was also glaring.
There’s more. Marc-Edouard Vlasic was a -3, losing track of Jarret Stoll on a second period Kings goal, while Tommy Wingels failed to convert on a penalty shot in the second period and was also on the ice for three Kings markers.
Douglas Murray said: “We were too average in a lot of areas, whether it’s excitement or execution, even below average in a few of those things. It’s unacceptable, the performance we had as a team tonight.”
The Sharks came in riding high after a 4-3 win on Thursday night at HP Pavilion, and Tuesday’s game in St. Louis in which they fired 41 shots on Blues goalie Jake Allen in a 4-2 loss in which they outplayed their opponent.
Saturday’s game provided not only a chance to win two straight games in regulation for the first time since late January, but also the opportunity to move ahead of Los Angeles in the standings. Instead, the Sharks (12-9-6, 30 points) remain in eighth place in the Western Conference, and Los Angeles improved to 15-10-2 (32 points).
“You’re finally feeling pretty good about your team and pretty good about your game, and then you take a step back like this tonight,” Thornton said.
Suddenly, there are concerns about Niemi, too. The Sharks’ steadiest player all season long, the goaltender has now been yanked from the crease in two of the last five games. He allowed a bad angle shot – the first of the game – by Clifford, to beat him at 2:27 of the first period. Three more in the second period followed before Alex Stalock took over.
While the three second period goals he allowed can't be solely pinned on Niemi, McLellan didn’t let him off of the hook for the loss.
“Well, they scored on their first shot. When you need a save early in the game, they scored on their first shot and they got the momentum rolling from there,” McLellan said. “But, there were a lot of other people involved in all 60 minutes, not just Nemo.”
Murray was more forgiving.
“It’s something we’ve been a lot better this year is net play, and right now he makes the first stop a lot of times and we’re not picking up rebounds,” he said. “We’re giving up way too many rebound goals. That’s on us as D, and forwards as well.”
Niemi said: “I’ve got to be able to try my best to get those to the corners, and we’ve got to be able to get back to the net to clear those.”
Despite getting badly outplayed in the first period for the second straight game, the Sharks had a chance to tie it on Wingels’ penalty shot at 7:58 of the second. Patrick Marleau made it 2-1 with a goal in the first minute of the middle frame after Los Angeles scored the only two goals in the first.
Wingels tried to go glove side on Jonathan Bernier, but the goalie got just enough of it to keep it out.
“Obviously, if I would have scored it would have changed the momentum and dynamic of the game, but I tried and I didn’t get it in,” Wingels said.
“I felt I could beat him high glove. I thought he was going to go down a bit earlier, but he kept that glove high and made a good save.”
Whether or not the Sharks would have polished up their game had Wingels scored is impossible to predict, but it was the last good chance that San Jose had to remain in the game. Stoll’s goal at 11:15 of the second was followed by Clifford’s second at 13:45, and Dwight King made it 5-1 at 18:56 just before the second intermission. Game over.
Matt Irwin’s power play goal came with less than a minute left in regulation, but only served to make the game appear closer than it actually was.
“It’s was great individual test, and it was a great test collectively for us to take that competition level up and match what was coming at us,” McLellan said.
Consider it a failing grade.