Sharks stonewalled at home, fall 1-0 to Sabres

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Sharks stonewalled at home, fall 1-0 to Sabres

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE Its an unfamiliar situation for the San Jose Sharks to be fighting and clawing to stay in the top eight in March.

So unfamiliar, in fact, that you have to wonder if the team itself even realizes where it stands after a lackluster, lethargic and languid effort for the first half of a 1-0 shutout loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night at HP Pavilion.

Sure, the Sharks showed up late in the second period and then in the third, even outshooting Buffalo 17-5 over the final 20 minutes. But the fact it took so long, after the shorthanded coaching staff had to juggle its top lines, and against an opponent that was playing in its second of back-to-back games, likely left the 100th consecutive sellout crowd shaking its collective head as it filed out of the arena.

Drew Stafford scored late in the first period and Ryan Miller made it hold up, and the fading Sharks will have gone more than a month without back-to-back wins by the time they host the dangerous St. Louis Blues on Saturday.

We definitely poured it on, said Joe Thornton of the third period. You want it for 60 minutes, but Miller is a world-class goalie. Whatever he sees he usually stops, and I dont think we had enough traffic in front of him tonight.

You obviously want to control the momentum for all 60, but I dont think its going to happen. Its just how you recover from when you lose the momentum, Brent Burns said.

The Sharks finally awoke towards the end of the second after generating few prime scoring chances through the first half of the game. By then, Miller was settled in and confident.

Matt Shaw, once again filling in for a concussed Todd McLellan, said: I thought we started slow in the first period, got better in the second, and then really played well in the third. At that point Miller was feeling it, and we really struggled to beat him.

They didnt beat him at all, in fact, despite plenty of late chances. The Sharks reunited top line of Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski had long stretches in the Sabres zone looking for the equalizer in the final frame. During one lengthy shift in the offensive zone, Miller stopped Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic wrist shots, able to track the puck through traffic.

Later, TJ Galiardi led a three-on-one rush up the ice after Antti Niemi held the fort in front of the net on the other end during a scramble in front. Galiardi tried feeding Daniel Winnik at the last second, but Millers poke check prevented a shot on goal.

With 7:38 to go in the third, Miller was shaken up after getting plowed into by teammate Patrick Kaleta. He eventually got to his feet to finish off his fifth shutout of the year, turning away all 39 Sharks shots.

Obviously hes a great goalie, and one of the best for a reason, Burns said.

The Sharks havent won consecutively since Jan. 31 Feb. 2, and blew an opportunity to retake the Pacific Division lead after the Phoenix Coyotes lost to Calgary earlier in the night.

RELATED: NHL standings

Buffalo took a 1-0 lead on Staffords goal. After a soft neutral zone giveaway by Burns, Tyler Ennis skated the puck into the Sharks zone. Ennis found Stafford to his right, and Staffords blast from the faceoff circle deflected off of Niemi and in at 18:51.

Despite the turnover, Burns was one of the more effective players for the Sharks throughout the night, including drawing a holding call on Ville Leino late in the second period. The Sharks failed to take advantage of that opportunity to tie it before the intermission, though.

Thats hockey. Its a mistake. What do you do? You get by it, Burns said of the turnover. I think when you play a little bit more of an aggressive style, you push it. Its going to happen.

Shaw said: A low scoring game you always look at the one mistake. He played excellent, you have to give him a lot of credit for that.

Ryane Clowe, who scored the only goal in Tuesdays 1-0 win over the Flyers, had a pair of good chances early in each of the first two periods. A charging Clowe was stopped on the doorstep just 1:18 into the game on a pass from Thornton, and Miller got his glove on Clowes tip try on a nifty feed from Tommy Wingels about a minute into the second.

Similar chances. One was one my forehand, one was on my backhand, Clowe said. The first one was a good chance, but Miller was kind of over there before I got the puck. I didnt really have much of an opportunity to really put it anywhere, but it was a great play by Joe.

The second one, I felt like I had him beat.

The Sharks nearly tied it on the power play late in the second with Leino in the box.

Miller misplayed the puck in front of his own net, and Clowe tried sliding it in from the slot. Miller made the save and managed to deny Thorntons rebound attempts in front, aided by the net coming off of its moorings while the puck was still loose.

San Jose was once again without leading goal scorer Logan Couture, still suffering the effects from an apparent knee injury suffered on Sunday in Minnesota. The Sharks did welcome back newcomer Dominic Moore, though. The recent acquisition from Tampa Bay played in just his third game as a Shark and first at home after missing four games with a lower body injury. Moore skated as the third line center between Galiardi and Torrey Mitchell to start the game.

The Sharks fell to 33-23-7, and remain in seventh place in the West. We didnt get any points. Its a step back for us, said Thornton.

There isn't much room behind them.

Odds and ends: Antti Niemi stopped 18 of 19 shots. ... The Sharks were 0-for-2 on the power play and killed off all three Sabres power plays. ... Todd McLellan missed his second game with a concussion. Douglas Murray remains out with a fractured Adams apple. Andrew Desjardins and Benn Ferriero were the scratches for San Jose. ... Buffalo is 5-0-2 in its last seven games.

NHL Gameday: Sharks face Preds, look to rebound from 'crap' performance

NHL Gameday: Sharks face Preds, look to rebound from 'crap' performance

Programming note – Sharks-Predators coverage starts today at 4:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 42-25-7, 91 points, 1st Pacific Division
Predators: 37-25-11, 85 points, 4th Central Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***The freefalling Sharks will again try to put an end to their losing streak in their only visit to Nashville tonight. Friday night’s unsightly 6-1 loss in Dallas, their fifth straight in regulation, was surely their worst game of the season. Their typically strong defensive game handed the Stars all kinds of opportunities that they cashed in on.

“Uncharacteristic missed coverage," Pete DeBoer said of the Stars' third goal in which Jamie Benn was left uncovered, "but [I] think that you could say that about six of the goals – breakaways, two-on-ones. Just, crap. Not very good.”

Despite having a nine-point lead on the division on the morning of March 15, the Sharks are now tied in points with Anaheim (San Jose owns the tiebreaker, so is still officially in first place). The Ducks are idle Saturday, but Edmonton, two points back, is hosting putrid Colorado.

Nashville is 5-1-0 in its last six games, and 6-1-0 in its last seven at home.

***The Sharks have managed just five goals over their five regulation losses. Two of those scores have come on the power play, including one on a five-on-three; Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s goal against St. Louis deflected in off of a Blues player, and one of Patrick Marleau’s two markers in Minnesota on Tuesday came in large part to a miscommunication between Devan Dubnyk and Ryan Suter.

They are simply not generating anything lately.

“Some teams are doing a good job of taking some of our plays away, but it’s on us as players,” Joe Pavelski said. “You’ve got to win some battles, you've got to create some energy, some speed throughout the team. It’s hasn’t been one guy. It’s been all of us. We’re in this together. We’ll change it as a group."

***There was no morning skate on Saturday, so no word on whether Vlasic would be in the lineup after he took just one shift in the third period on Friday before departing.

The Sharks are 2-3-1 in the six games Vlasic has missed this season, including Tuesday in Minnesota when he was out with the flu. Just one of the two wins came in regulation (Jan. 7 against Detroit).

If he’s out, Dylan DeMelo will presumably draw back in on the third pair.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Tomas Hertl. It didn’t take long for Hertl to be bumped up to the Joe Thornton line after Friday’s game started to go sour. In the first period, Hertl looked like one of the few Sharks players actually performing decently, and he finished with a team-high four shots on goal. He remains without a point in his last 11 games, though.

Predators: James Neal. The Predators forward has goals in each of his two games against the Sharks this season, and is third on the Predators with 21 overall. After scoring in three straight games from March 11-16, Neal hasn’t found the scoresheet in his last three.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Jannik Hansen – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Mikkel Boedker
Marcus Sorensen – Tomas Hertl – Joel Ward
Micheal Haley – Chris Tierney – Joonas Donskoi

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones (likely starter)
Aaron Dell

Predators
Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Viktor Arvidsson
Kevin Fiala – Calle Jarnkrok – James Neal
Colin Wilson – Colton Sissons – Craig Smith
Cody McLeod – Vern Fiddler – Austin Watson

Romas Josi – Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm – P.K. Subban
Matt Irwin – Yannick Weber

Pekka Rinne
Jusse Saros

INJURIES

Sharks: Marc-Edouard Vlasic (possible lower body) and Melker Karlsson (lower body) are questionable.

Predators: Mike Fisher (lower body) is questionable.

QUOTEABLE

"The nice thing about this is we get to go back at it again tomorrow. There’s going to be no excuse for not playing hard tomorrow.” – Brenden Dillon, after Friday night’s loss in Dallas

 

Sharks blowout loss to Stars includes 'a month's worth of mistakes'

Sharks blowout loss to Stars includes 'a month's worth of mistakes'

DALLAS – In just two-and-a-half weeks, the Sharks will have the opportunity to defend their Western Conference title when the Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway.

(Take a deep breath. They won’t fall out of playoff position.)

Still, it’s a terrible time for them to be playing their worst hockey of the season, and going through the foulest stretch of coach Pete DeBoer’s two-year tenure.

The Sharks were flat-out embarrassed by the Stars on Friday night in their fifth straight regulation defeat, 6-1 in Dallas, showing no signs of life for the duration. Not even a verbal tongue-lashing from their normally reserved head coach in full view of the cameras in the second period got their motors going.

How do you explain this one, Joe Pavelski?

“I don’t know, good question,” said the captain. “There’s a commitment that needs to be there to win in this league right now consistently. Right now, we’re searching for that.”

DeBoer, too, was puzzled.

“You have a handful of those a year where nothing goes right and nobody’s got any kind of legs or energy,” he said. “It was one of those nights. I don’t have an explanation for it. I felt we prepared the right way the last couple days. I thought we felt pretty good about ourselves. Then, the puck dropped and everything went bad.”

It was evident early that the Sharks were off, as they couldn’t figure out a way to get the puck through the neutral zone for the first several shifts and didn’t register a shot on goal until 7:17 into the first period. The first of three Adam Cracknell goals – yes, Adam Cracknell – had them trailing 1-0 after the opening frame.

Traditionally, the Sharks would have found a way to jolt themselves to life at the intermission, as it was so plainly obvious that they didn’t seem focused or driven over the first 20 minutes.

This was a game, too, in which they were healthier, getting Jannik Hansen back in the lineup, and more rested than the Stars, who were playing their second game in as many nights while San Jose was coming off a rare two-day break. Furthermore, the Sharks have seen a nine-point lead in the Pacific Division evaporate to just two points headed into Friday’s action. Motivation should have been easy against a team that shut them out on Monday, to boot.

But the mental mistakes to start the second were even worse. Brett Ritchie was left alone by Brenden Dillon for a goal just 1:58 into the middle frame, and at 5:19, Brent Burns was caught staring at the puck off of a faceoff as Jamie Benn got free in front of the net to push the Dallas lead to 3-0. DeBoer's timeout and screaming session after that third goal did nothing, as Dallas got two more goals off of the rush and another on a breakaway by Cracknell after a gift turnover by goalie Aaron Dell before the night was through.

“That’s a month worth of mistakes in one night, so hopefully we get it out of the system,” DeBoer said.

The defensive miscues should be easily correctable, according to Dillon.

“If you look at a good chunk of those goals, we kind of know whether it was d-zone coverage, or off the rush, or just communicating with one another,” he said. “Stuff that’s not like us. I think if we watched the other 70 games this year, those kind of things don’t happen.”

Of course, the defensive errors become all the more glaring when a team isn’t scoring, either. The Sharks managed just one Joe Thornton power play goal, and have just five total goals in their last five games.

That part of their game wasn’t any better against Dallas than their defense, as Kari Lehtonen had a relatively tranquil evening.

“We have a lot of guys that are going through some tough times right now and struggling to get on the scoresheet,” Logan Couture said. “We're going to need all of those guys to bring more. That's from our top guys, including myself and on down. We need to do more offensively. Score goals, and do more defensively, as well.”

They have just eight more games to figure it all out.

“It’s not ideal, by any means,” Dillon said. “I think it’s maybe a bit of a wakeup call for us. … You can’t take a night off and you have to be emotionally invested. You’ve got to take every shift as hard as you possibly can.”

* * *

DeBoer had no update on Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who didn't play in the third period. The defenseman was seen leaving the dressing room under his own power, but looked to be walking a bit gingerly.