Uncharacteristic sloppiness costs Sharks in OT loss

Uncharacteristic sloppiness costs Sharks in OT loss

SAN JOSE – Here’s the thing about the Sharks’ February schedule – they aren’t facing a single team that is a legitimate threat to win the Stanley Cup. Further, seven of the 11 are against Eastern Conference opponents, while the other four are against Vancouver and Arizona (twice each), the two worst teams in the Pacific Division.

It’s only human nature that the Sharks might not be as mentally focused during a stretch of opponents that aren’t traditional rivals, and that they aren’t going to see in any postseason series. That includes the Florida Panthers, who even if they squeak into the playoffs, aren’t in any kind of position to make a deep run.

The Sharks had their legs against Florida on Wednesday night, outshooting them 36-22. But mental mistake after mental mistake allowed the Panthers to pile on six goals, including Jonathan Huberdeau’s game-winner in overtime, in a 6-5 Florida win.

“You look back at all their goals tonight, [they are] on our sticks,” Logan Couture said. “We gave it to them, and their young skill – they thrive off of turnovers. That’s where they get creative and create chances like they did. Tic-tac-toe, it’s in the back of our net. That’s on us, those are our mistakes.”

“Yeah, we made some errors tonight,” Joe Pavelski said. “They’re one of those teams with a lot of speed, and they’ve got some guys that like to make plays. They finished.”

Florida jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, scoring their first two when Brent Burns and then Brenden Dillon weren’t in the right position. The third came on a blatant Marc-Edouard Vlasic defensive zone turnover.

After getting one back later in the first, San Jose dominated the second period and tied it on a Vlasic slapper, making it 3-3 after two.

A couple more turnovers though, by Timo Meier and Chris Tierney, helped the Panthers gain a two-goal cushion in the third again. Nick Bjugstad swiped in an Alex Petrovic pass to make it 4-3 when Meier couldn’t clear the zone, and Aleksander Barkov finished off a pretty passing play from Jaromir Jagr and Petrovic, after Tierney slid it up to Petrovic's blade high in the zone.

“We didn’t give up a lot of shots, but we gave up a lot of grade-A opportunities, which is a little uncharacteristic,” Pete DeBoer said. “That’s a team that will stick it in the back of the net if you give them grade-A looks. I think that was our biggest error tonight. It wasn’t the number of chances, it was the quality of them. … We’re usually better than that.”

Neither DeBoer nor Vlasic agreed with the theory that the Sharks weren’t as mentally prepared against an opponent like the Panthers, even if their miscues with the puck suggested otherwise. “No, I don’t sense that at all,” said the coach. “We were up tonight, we had great energy. We weren’t smart with the puck in some situations, and it burnt us.”

And, the Sharks nearly won the game anyway. Pavelski scored a pair of late goals to force overtime, getting some help on a redirection by Michael Matheson at 16:39 in his own net, and then lifting in a loose puck off of the post with just 38 seconds to go in regulation.

The captain’s efforts allowed the Sharks to record at least a point in the standings for the 13th time in their last 15 games, even if they’ve won just one of their last six.

“We wanted to get one just to give ourselves a chance,” Pavelski said, “[and] we end up tying it up there. It’s definitely a good feeling.”

In overtime, though, it was more sloppiness that cost San Jose. David Schlemko was pressured into a turnover below the goal line by Huberdeau, who then took a pass from Barkov and slid it past Martin Jones at 1:38 of the extra session.

Had the Sharks just been a little cleaner with the puck - and their heads screwed on a little more tightly - it could have been a routine victory.

“I never for a second thought we weren’t in control of that game,” Couture said. “I thought we had the majority of the chances, just we kept turning the puck over. They made us pay for it. Every turnover ended up in our net.”

Couture's father: Sharks center dealing with 'ugly injury' after puck to mouth

Couture's father: Sharks center dealing with 'ugly injury' after puck to mouth

After requiring a visit to a local hospital in Nashville due to being struck in the face with a deflected puck on Saturday night against the Predators, Logan Couture was able to fly back with the team to San Jose on Sunday morning.

The severity of his injury is still unknown, although his father, Chet, said on Twitter that it was “an ugly injury sadly.”

Another source close to the situation told CSN the injury is “brutal.”

Couture, who lost several teeth, visited with Sharks medical personnel on Sunday and a further update is expected on Monday. 

Perhaps the best-case scenario is that the injury looks a lot worse than it actually is, such as when Marc-Edouard Vlasic was sidelined for one week when he took a puck to the face from the stick Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere in late December.

Losing Couture for any period of time would be a difficult blow to the Sharks, who have lost their last six in regulation, including Saturday’s 7-2 defeat to the Predators. Couture is third on the team in scoring with 52 points, and has a team-leading 11 power play goals. He entered Saturday’s game with four goals and five assists in his last 10 games, and has arguably been the team’s best player since mid-January.

"You can't replace him, so it would be really tough,” Patrick Marleau said after the game Saturday. “But if that is the case, then guys are going to have to pull up the slack. Definitely we hope he's back sooner.”

Couture was set up just outside the crease in the third period when a Brent Burns point shot late in the second period hit a stick before squarely smacking into the 27-year-old’s mouth. He quickly skated to the dressing room under his own power with just 14 seconds before the intermission.

The Sharks have seven games remaining in the regular season, hosting the Rangers on Tuesday and visiting Edmonton and Calgary later this week. They are tied in points (91) with Anaheim and Edmonton in the Pacific Division.

Three takeaways: Sharks having trouble explaining meltdown

Three takeaways: Sharks having trouble explaining meltdown

NASHVILLE – The Sharks are returning to San Jose on Sunday in a crisis. Nothing good came from Saturday’s 7-2 loss to Nashville, their sixth straight in regulation. Let’s get to the painful three takeaways…

1 – No answers

Neither Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns nor Patrick Marleau – the three players made available to the media after Saturday’s game – offered any kind of in-depth analysis of what’s going wrong. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone really knows. It’s hard to believe that this is the same club that had lost just two games in regulation in its previous 14 before the losing streak began.

“If you’re putting a consistent effort in, battling, competing – it’s tough to lose six in a row,” Pavelski said. “You look at six in a row, and it just seems daunting. Like, how do you get there? So, I think we’ve just got to take a deep breath, really kind of refocus.”

Believe it or not, coach Pete DeBoer thought Saturday’s loss was “a step in the right direction” when asked why Friday night’s 6-1 beat down in Dallas wasn’t enough of a wake-up call. How often do you hear that after a five-goal defeat?

“I liked our game tonight better than I liked [Friday’s game] regardless of the score,” DeBoer said. “I don’t just look at the score. If you want to just judge it on the score than you might not say it’s a wake-up call, but I thought we were much more competitive tonight. 

“It was a step in the right direction. Every team goes through tough parts of the season, and this is ours. We’ve got a lot of character in the room. We’ll get through it.”

2 – Couture injury would spell doom, as Hertl still MIA

Let’s face it – if Logan Couture is out for any extended period of time, this team is DOA once the playoffs begin. Couture has been the Sharks’ best player since the All-Star break, and they don’t have anyone on the current roster or in the system that could replace him. As of Sunday morning, there was still no word as to the severity of his injury after taking a puck to the mouth and going to a local Nashville hospital.

If Couture were to miss time, Tomas Hertl would likely become the team’s second line center. Lately, though, Hertl doesn’t even resemble an effective third line center. He was victimized on Nashville’s first goal, which was similar to one of the Wild goals on Tuesday, when he was just too slow and not strong enough on his skates in getting outworked for a loose puck. He is scoreless in his last 12 games.

3 – Haley shows some emotion that others lack

It’s understandable that Micheal Haley didn’t like getting hit from behind by Calle Jarnkrok in the third period. But, you can’t just make a beeline for a guy and punch him in the face. Haley will almost certainly get suspended for the play.

At least, though, Haley showed a little bit of emotion in the game, including his first period fight with Cody McLeod. Perhaps guys like Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker could take a lesson from the fiery Haley. Those three, in particular, have been virtually useless during this six-game stretch. 

If I’m DeBoer, I’d get on the phone with Doug Wilson and Roy Sommer and ask for a few guys from the Barracuda so I could – depending on the team’s health situation – scratch all three of them for Tuesday against the Rangers, or at least remove Boedker and Donskoi and put Hertl back on the wing. Drastic times call for drastic measures, do they not?