Sharks sluggish in 3-1 loss to Blues


Sharks sluggish in 3-1 loss to Blues


SAN JOSE The Sharks had a chance on Saturday night at home to at least give some credence to their claim that they should still be in the discussion of the best teams in the Western Conference.

After a 3-1 loss to the impressive St. Louis Blues San Joses 10th defeat in the last 15 games the Sharks instead illustrated why they dont deserve to be considered among those elite few anymore.

The Blues (41-18-7, 89 points), who swept the four-game season series from the Sharks, all in regulation, are just one point behind Vancouver for the most in the conference. Thats a full 16 points better than the nose-diving Sharks (33-24-7, 73 points), who look like nothing more than a second-class citizen with just 18 games remaining in the regular season.

The Sharks werent necessarily outworked, despite getting out-shot 32-19. The Blues simply looked like the more tenacious and therefore more talented team, that San Jose would be wise to avoid in the playoffs if they even manage to qualify.

It wasnt good enough. No line really generated a lot of chances. Its unfortunate right now, Logan Couture said. We need to win more battles in the other teams end and be hungrier for pucks to create some chances. They were the hungrier team tonight. They out-shot us, outplayed us, and beat us.

Matt Shaw, once again filling in for an ailing Todd McLellan, said: Those shot totals, or the way the stat sheets look, might be generous tonight. I dont know if it fully portrayed our lack of ability to create any sort of net pressure or zone time or put them back on their heels.

After falling behind 1-0, the Sharks tied the game after a rare extended shift in the Blues zone. Torrey Mitchell threw one towards the net from the boards, and it somehow got past Jaroslav Halak at 15:29. It was Mitchells first goal in 20 games.

St. Louis responded just 20 seconds later, when TJ Oshie deflected a Carlo Colaiacovo shot past Antti Niemi to give the Blues the lead back.

The Blues out-shot the Sharks 12-3 in the second period, but special teams was the difference as they increased their lead to 3-1 after 40 minutes.

With Justin Braun off for cross-checking at 11:39, Oshie drove hard to the net from the corner boards. Kevin Shattenkirk was in front and knocked in a loose puck at 12:38 to give St. Louis a two-goal cushion.

The Sharks had a pair of man advantage chances to get back to within a goal before the intermission. Vladimir Sobotka went off for cross-checking Tommy Wingels into the boards at 14:24, but an inept power play was abbreviated on a boneheaded holding penalty by Joe Thornton at 15:39.

Wingels drew another penalty with less than two minutes to go in the second, but the Sharks were once again unable to set up in the offensive zone.

The Blues killed off all three Sharks power plays relatively incident free, by the time the night was through. What was the problem?

Outworking us, Couture said. On a power play youre got five, theyve got four. When youre outworked, youre not going to score.

Shaw said: There were some plays that weve seen our team make time and time again, that we werent making. If youre not executing very well your power play is not going to do a thing, and ours didnt do a thing tonight.

St. Louis took a 1-0 lead on the power play thanks to a fortunate bounce. Shattenkirk dumped the puck in from center ice, and as Niemi went behind the net to play it, it caromed off of the boards to the front of the net where Andy McDonald easy tapped it in at 2:52 of the first period.

The Blues finished 2-for-5 on the power play.

The Sharks nearly took the lead a couple times before McDonalds goal. Thornton set up Pavelski with a nice pass in front of the net in the games first minute that was stonewalled by Halak. Marleau had a shorthanded rush just before that opening score, but Halak stopped it.

Those may have been the Blues goaltenders two toughest saves of the night, and they came on the first two Sharks shots. After that, the Blues consistently prevented the Sharks from setting up shop in their zone.

Theyre a great defensive team. Thats what they do, and we only got one, Marc-Edouard Vlasic said.

Shaw said: Hockey is a physical game and their compete level and level of success in those one-on-one battles, which you always talk about, was dramatically better than ours.

The Sharks welcomed back two key players to their lineup. Couture returned from a two-game absence with an apparent knee injury, while defenseman Douglas Murray played after missing the last eight games with a fractured Adams apple.

Murray brought some energy and physicality to the lineup, but was just as frustrated as his teammates, who lost for the eighth time in the last 10 games (2-7-1).

Its small details right now, Murray said. Obviously, a bad bounce on the first goal, but you earn bounces, too. You not only have to work hard, youve got to execute, too. They had better execution that we did.

The Sharks remained in seventh place in the Western Conference, once again failing to move back into the Pacific Division lead after Phoenix lost earlier in the night.

Odds and ends: Michal Handzus, Jason Demers, Benn Ferriero and Andrew Desjardins were scratched for San Jose, all coachs decision. Daniel Winnik recorded his first point as a Shark with an assist on Torrey Mitchells goal. Mitchell's goal ended the Sharks scoreless streak against the Blues at 164:11 after they were shutout in the previous two matchups, both in St. Louis. The Sharks barely used their fourth line forwards in Jim Vandermeer (1:43 of ice time), Brad Winchester (2:13) and TJ Galiardi (2:30). The Blues blocked 19 shots. The Blues finished their road trip 5-1-0.

Three takeaways: Third line leads the way for Sharks

Three takeaways: Third line leads the way for Sharks

SAN JOSE – In an important rebound performance, the Sharks handled the Winnipeg Jets fairly easily in a 5-2 victory at SAP Center on Monday afternoon. They put an end to a stretch of losing five of seven (2-4-1), and have now won three of their last five (3-2-0). Here are the three main points we’re taking away from the game…

1 – Third line leads the way

We focused on Joel Ward in our primary game recap yesterday, as Ward’s performance and the play he made on the second goal stood out. But Ward’s linemates Timo Meier and Chris Tierney also put an end to lengthy scoring streaks, as Meier got a goal for the first time in 13 games and Tierney got one for the first time in 14 games.

All three players had two points, with a goal and an assist each, while Tierney and Ward were each a plus-three (Meier was a plus-two).

“Obviously for a forward you want to score goals but sometimes you just have to be patient,” Meier said. “It’s my first season in the NHL and [I’m trying to] stay patient, work hard and just keep going and do the little things right. I know it will build up to success if I do the little things right.”

Tierney was in need of a strong game maybe more than anyone else, as he continues to fill in on the third line for an injured Tomas Hertl, who still has no official timeline to return. Tierney had just one point, an assist, since scoring that goal against the Senators on Dec. 14 headed into Monday.

He liked the way his line was working.

“Both those guys on the wing are big heavy guys,” he said. “They get in the corners, they win puck battles. They go to the net hard, they get pucks out of our own end. It’s pretty easy.”

Here’s one stat we missed on the postgame sheet, too: Ward was a perfect nine-for-nine in the faceoff circle.

2 – Don’t underestimate the goaltending

While everyone got a laugh at Martin Jones’ failed try at an empty net goal in the closing seconds, Jones was as important a player the Sharks had on Monday. The Sharks looked like they were taking some time to get into the game, perhaps unaccustomed to the early start, and Jones made some point-blank saves to keep it scoreless before Ward’s shorthanded score. 

"They came out ready to play,” Pete DeBoer said of the Jets. “The first five minutes Jonesy made some big saves, allowed us to kind of get our legs going. And then I thought we really started to play.”

On the other end, goalie Michael Hutchinson wasn’t nearly as sharp. He was off his angle on Ward’s goal, and on Brent Burns’ power play goal, he failed to read the shot going wide and it deflected in off of the back of his skate. 

I tweeted before the game that it seems like there are more NHL teams than usual that are dealing with goaltending problems these days. In fact, the Jets got so desperate after Monday’s game that they recalled former starter Ondrej Pavelec from the AHL. The Sharks clearly don’t have that problem, so long as Jones remains healthy. Jones’ importance to this team simply can’t be overstated, and it was proven again on Monday.

3 – Slowing down the Jets

Several players spoke about how the Sharks were able to slow down the Jets, who possess some pretty speedy players, after that initial push. Winnipeg beat the Sharks twice last season in three meetings.

“I just thought once we got pucks in [deep], [we had] some poise to hold on to it and make plays, just slow them down a little bit.” Ward said. “They’re a fast team obviously, really good on transition. If we could play in their end a little bit and frustrate them a little bit mentally, we’d get some chances.”

Jones said: “I think after the first 10 minutes we really started taking over the game. We did a good job slowing them down. They’re a really fast team with some good forwards. We did a great job through the neutral zone, kind of eliminating their speed.”

Ward's sacrifice keys 'bounce-back' game for Sharks

Ward's sacrifice keys 'bounce-back' game for Sharks

SAN JOSE – Joel Ward has been in the league long enough to know that the Sharks got outworked and outhustled in their decisive loss to the Blues on Saturday.

That could be why he put his body on the line in the second period against the Jets on Monday afternoon at SAP Center. Ward hustled to a loose puck along the wall with the Sharks holding a slim 1-0 lead and slipped it ahead to Chris Tierney, before getting absolutely plastered by Mark Stuart on a hit as big as you’ll see in today’s NHL.

While Ward was sluggish to get up as a result of his head bouncing off the ice surface, Tierney gave it to Timo Meier, who finished off a breakaway goal early in the second period.

While he was seeing stars from what he called a “clean hit,” Ward also heard the goal horn.

“I tried to get the puck out, obviously, and next thing I knew I was on my back and heard the horn go off,” he said. “I wasn’t too sure what happened after that.”

What happened was a 5-2 Sharks win, two days after one of their worst performances of the season, a 4-0 home defeat to St. Louis. San Jose withstood an early push by the visiting Jets but took over the game in the second period, particularly after Ward’s sacrifice.

"That's the commitment we talk about,” Pete DeBoer said. “Taking that hit, making that play, [Meier] scores the goal. We need that. Joel's a guy that brings that to the rink almost every night. That's what it's going to take at this time of year in order to have success."

In a rare afternoon start, the Sharks looked sleepy in the beginning. The Jets were the better team for the first few minutes, but Martin Jones made sure they didn’t get on the board. He made a key stop on a Shawn Matthias one-timer just 1:29 into the first period, and then bailed out David Schlemko on a defensive zone turnover a few minutes later, again denying Matthias.

The Sharks went to the penalty kill after Schlemko’s cross-checking minor at 11:39, but Ward scored 15 seconds after that, picking the corner over Michael Hutchinson for a pretty shorthanded marker. He correctly read a Justin Braun clearing attempt, when Braun rimmed it past Dustin Byfuglien, who couldn’t keep it in at the blue line. 

After that, “just kind of saw glove side and fired it there as quick as I could,” Ward said.

That led to a dominant second period for San Jose. Along with Meier’s goal, Brent Burns scored on a power play and the slumping Jets were noticeably deflated from there.

Jones said the Jets “came out real hard,” but, “that’s pretty much all [my teammates] needed from me today. You can’t really ask for much more than that from the guys. They put up five, and slowed down a pretty fast team.”

Tierney said: “Joner did a great job of keeping us in it and not giving up a goal there and putting us behind. After that, we kind of got it going a bit and started playing our game.”

There was even some late comedy. Trailing 4-1 at the time, Jets coach Paul Maurice decided to take Hutchinson out for an extra attacker. Jones noticed the empty net and was lining up a shot after he retrieved a dump-in. It didn’t go more than a foot in front of him, though, as Mark Scheifele blocked it and slipped it into an empty net.

Jones could be seen grinning through his mask, while Tierney said he was “laughing on the bench.”

“That’s the first time I’ve tried [shooting at an empty net], and probably the last, too,” Jones said.

In total, Monday's result offered quite the change in mood from Saturday’s whipping.

DeBoer said: “I don't think anyone in our room was happy with how last game went. It was a good bounce-back game."

“It was definitely good today to rebound, and get back to winning,” Ward said.