Highlights: Sharks' nine-game win streak over Canucks snapped
SAN JOSE – Antti Niemi is hardly the only reason that the Sharks have lost their last four games, including their most convincing defeat of the season, 4-2 to the Canucks on Thursday night at SAP Center.
But, he hasn’t exactly helped the cause, either.
Niemi allowed four goals for the third time in his last four starts, was pulled early in the second period, and the Sharks never recovered as their winless streak was extended. San Jose lost for just the second time in regulation, but hasn’t won a game since Oct. 27 in Ottawa.
Late in the first period, Jason Demers’ brutal turnover led to Chris Higgins’ goal, which ended up as the game-winner. Niemi probably shouldn’t have come back out to start the second period after letting three shots get past him in the opening frame, but when a Kevin Bieksa blast went in off of Zack Kassian’s skate at 5:22 of the middle frame, Niemi’s night was officially over.
“It’s been a couple tough games, giving up four goals against and not being able to win for a while,” Niemi said.
The netminder has started 15 of 16 games, and looks like he needs a break. The lone bright spot in the game for the Sharks, other than perhaps some energetic play from the fourth line, was Alex Stalock making 21 saves and looking calm and confident in just his second appearance of the season.
For the Sharks, though, that only meant that the damage didn’t get any worse. The team got a downright lucky goal early in the first period to take a quick lead, and Mike Brown’s first goal in 35 games tied it at 2-2 in the second period. After that, the Canucks took over, especially in the second period. Vancouver outshot the Sharks 17-5 in the frame, and San Jose had just 11 shots on goal through 40 minutes.
Say what you want about Niemi, who has a 4.09 goals-against average in his last four games, but the forwards and defensemen weren’t any better than the 2013 Vezina finalist.
“It’s about the work ethic and the commitment. We were clearly outworked,” head coach Todd McLellan said. “When you’re in the real world you work for eight hours, and when you’re in the hockey world you work for 60 minutes. We didn’t even come close to that.”
Logan Couture said: “Our go-to guys have got to be better, myself included. Tonight, we’ve got to go home, look in the mirror and realize that we all have to be better, come to the rink tomorrow and work.”
Although San Jose did pick up its play in the third period, it wasn’t able to overcome its numerous defensive miscues in the first. Along with Demers’ mistake, Tyler Kennedy was pressured into turnover leading to the game-tying goal by Brad Richardson, and Mike Santorelli was left alone in front of the net to deposit a rebound and give Vancouver a 2-1 lead. The Sharks finished with 22 giveaways.
“We’ve got to play better in front of [Niemi],” Couture said. “Some of those goals we gave up were turnovers on our stick, their stick, breakaway goal. How can you fault him for that? It was more us than it was him tonight.”
McLellan said: “When you’re back there with the pads on you seem to get singled out a little bit. You think of all the goals, there’s five other guys with skates on in front of him. But, [Niemi] hasn’t been sharp. He has not been sharp, he has to be better.”
The Sharks completed a three-game homestand without a victory, and got progressively worse as it went along. That includes Tuesday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Sabres, in which the Sharks were also particularly sloppy in the first and second periods before turning it up in the final frame.
“That’s twice we kind of stink up the joint in the first and second and have a good third,” Joe Thornton said. “Tonight, we just couldn’t catch up. We’ve got to be better in the first two. It starts there.”
Not even four completely rearranged forward lines could spark the suddenly slumping Sharks, who are now tied with Vancouver and Phoenix for second place in the Pacific Division with 24 points.
"You’re trying to spark guys, you’re trying to find combinations, you’re trying to send messages," McLellan said of his late-game tactics. "But, when you have a busload that didn’t show up to play, it’s pretty hard.”
It's pretty hard when the goaltender is struggling like he is, too.