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.”