SAN JOSE -- Since the season resumed after the Olympic break, the Sharks had played relatively mistake-free hockey. It allowed them to pick up points in the standings in 13 of 15 games, including 10 wins, headed into Thursday night’s matchup with Winnipeg.
Against the Jets, though, the Sharks made a number of errors, both of the physical and mental variety. It cost them in a 4-3 regulation loss that puts a huge dent in their chances of capturing the Pacific Division.
Among the errors:
- Brad Stuart’s bad pinch in the first period that allowed Winnipeg to tie the game on an odd-man rush, shortly after Dan Boyle’s goal had given San Jose the lead
- Antti Niemi allowing a ghastly, impossible-angle goal to Blake Wheeler early in the second, again letting the Jets tie the score at 2-2
- Stuart getting victimized again late in the third, when he was forced to hold Michael Frolik after getting caught out of position
- Logan Couture’s misfire on a clearing attempt resulting in a delay of game minor, just as Stuart’s penalty was about to expire, keeping the Jets on the power play
[RECAP: Sharks underachieve in loss to Jets]
Tobias Enstrom’s marker at 16:24 of the third with Couture still in the box was the difference. Todd McLellan commented on the final two penalties.
“[Stuart] hesitated, and got caught. If you’re a d-man and you’re going to pinch, you have to go. Stuey knows that. He hesitated and had to reach. [Couture] shot it over the glass. There’s no argument there.”
The penalty kill has been one of the strongest facets of the Sharks’ game all season, and they had allowed just one power play goal total in the last 10 games (24-for-25). Twice against the Jets, though, that unit allowed passes through the slot to open men on the other side, including Enstrom’s game-winner and an earlier marker by Dustin Byfuglien midway through regulation, giving the Jets their first lead of the night, 3-2.
Were they mistakes, too?
“Probably, yeah. Not necessarily from not working, just being in maybe not the right position or stick not in the right position,” Boyle said.
McLellan called the game-winning goal “a mistake at the end that we work on all the time. Very preventable, which is disappointing.”
The game was much more end-to-end than usual for the Sharks, who were outshot 31-30. The ice was also not in optimal condition.
“I hate making excuses, but the ice was pretty bad for both teams so that probably made it into a sloppy game,” Couture said. “We weren’t very good tonight.”
Joe Thornton said: “It was a little bit too wide open probably for our liking. That type of game doesn’t work for us.”
The Sharks also continued a disturbing pattern of struggling with lesser opponents. The Jets are out of the playoff race, and entered the night in last place in the Central Division.
San Jose is just 7-5-2 against the bottom four teams in the Western Conference (Winnipeg, Nashville, Calgary and Edmonton). Furthermore, its only two post-break regulation losses before Thursday were to Eastern Conference bottom dwellers Buffalo and Florida.
According to SportsClubStats.com, the Sharks have an 81 percent chance of finishing behind Anaheim in the Pacific Division race. The Ducks have played three fewer games than San Jose and have an easier slate of games remaining, although they still trail the Sharks by two points.
As rare as they’ve been, the Sharks can ill-afford more mistake-filled efforts if they hope to avoid a brutal first round matchup with the Los Angeles Kings.
“We can’t give away points,” Joe Pavelski said. “We’ve given away a few too many lately. [Anaheim] has got the games in hand. If they do their job they’ll be there, but there’s still quite a bit of hockey left.”