ST. LOUIS –- The consensus among the Sharks’ players and their head coach following the 4-2 loss in St. Louis was that the better team didn’t get the two points.
It’s easy to see why. The Sharks outshot the Blues, 41-21, dominated territorially for long stretches, particularly in the second period, and the power play looked dangerous in three attempts, scoring a third period goal on a Dan Boyle one-timer.
Whatever it was – Brent Burns’ return as a forward, perhaps? – the Sharks looked much more dangerous than they have in recent weeks as they've struggled to generate offense. They're hopeful that the lessons they learned from their fourth straight loss will aid them in the stretch run, now that the second half of the shortened regular season is officially underway.
Boyle, who isn’t afraid to be critical of his team’s effort, said: “I don’t say it too often after a loss, and maybe not so much the first 10 minutes, but after that I thought we were the much better team. It was a very good effort. We had lots of chances that we haven’t had in awhile. There was a couple freaky bounces and things that happened out there, but overall for 50 minutes, I think that was a very good effort.”
“We were moving our feet, shooting, getting pucks back. That’s how we’re going to be successful,” Joe Thornton said. “We definitely put the work in. Some nights the better team is not going to win, and I think tonight was the case. We played real well and probably should have won the game, but the scoreboard didn’t indicate that.”
As Boyle referred to, a pair of fortunate bounces in the second period helped the Blues increase their lead to 2-0. Ryane Clowe, still searching for his first goal, lifted a backhand off of the post midway through regulation. It eventually resulted in a rush the other way, and Patrik Berglund found David Perron alone at the side of the net. Perron was unable to get his stick blade on the pass through the slot, but no matter, it deflected off of his skate and across the goal line. A brief video review rightly confirmed that Perron didn’t kick it in on purpose at 10:39.
Burns’ one-timer just over a minute later, his first point of the season, made it 2-1, and the Sharks went into attack mode. They had four shots on goal and six shots blocked in a span of less than a minute late in the second period, but Thornton couldn’t quite get a shot away at the side of the net in what looked like a certain goal with about three minutes left.
“I don’t know who it was, but someone got a stick on my shaft and just kind of deflected it somewhere,” Thornton said.
Like Clowe’s miss, the non-conversion cost them again. Instead of it being 2-2 after two, Antti Niemi left a bad rebound on a weak Barret Jackman shot to Chris Porter who flicked in his first goal of the year with less than seven seconds on the clock. The Blues led 3-1 after 40 minutes.
“I thought we got a little puck-focused, but it was a backhand from a bad angle and you’d like to see [Niemi] direct it over into a corner rather than out to a prime scoring area,” Todd McLellan said.
The game marked the fifth time in the last six games that the Sharks have eclipsed 30 shots. The 41 shots was the most they’ve had all year against a team not named the Colorado Avalanche, and came against a club that is first overall in shots against per game.
Again, it’s not hard to see why the Sharks weren’t hanging their heads in the locker room after the game.
“We were quicker, we were stronger, and outworked a team that prides themselves on working real hard,” McLellan said.
Gomez had the primary assist on Burns’ goal, and now has four points in his last five games. He, too, was pleased with the Sharks’ overall commitment level.
“We’ve got to build on this one,” Gomez said. “We did a lot of good things. That happens in hockey. Losing is no fun, but you can also learn from it. If we don’t come out and play like we did this game the rest of the way, we’re just cheating ourselves and the fans.”
Although the effort was pleasing, the Sharks know that won’t matter in the standings. The team now has just two regulation wins in its last 20 games, and with a Phoenix win over Los Angeles (the Coyotes led 4-1 after two), the Sharks will once again be on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.
McLellan said: “Our job is to win games. We didn’t do that tonight, but I really liked the effort, I really liked the energy, I liked the commitment level. I liked a lot of things about our game, except for the score at the end of the night. It’s the loss that goes into the important column. It’s not the effort and the commitment, so that stings.”
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to win games. That’s the bottom line,” Boyle said. “People don’t remember how well you played in game 12, game 18, game 19 – they just remember if it was a win or a loss. We’ve got to find a way to win hockey games.”