Sharks must fix serious flaw in their game

Highlights: Sharks' skid continues with loss to lowly Islanders

Sharks must fix serious flaw in their game
December 10, 2013, 11:30 pm
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Third period in our building up 2-0, we’ve got to win those games.
Joe Pavelski

SAN JOSE – If the Sharks fancy themselves a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, and by all internal accounts, they do, they’re going to have to fix a genuine flaw in their game that has been creeping in for several weeks now.

Holding on to leads. Putting teams away. Maintaining that drive and energy that they so often have in the first period, but that they are unable to preserve for the full 60 minutes.

On Tuesday night, the Sharks badly outplayed the New York Islanders in the first period, outshooting them 18-3. They had the better of the scoring chances in the second period, too, in taking a 2-0 lead.

But, it didn’t last. Just like a 2-1 third period lead in Carolina last Friday didn’t (a 5-3 loss). And a 3-2 third period lead against Anaheim on Nov. 30 (a 4-3 shootout win). And a 2-1 third period lead against L.A. on Nov. 27 (a 3-2 shootout win).

Even in victories against New Jersey on Nov. 23 and St. Louis on Nov. 29, in which San Jose was clearly the better team early and built up a multiple goal advantage, things got precarious by the final frame.

But, Tuesday’s loss was different. The Islanders were as sloppy in their own zone as any NHL team that’s faced San Jose this season, and the Sharks allowed them to hang around long enough to put a stop to their 10-game losing streak overall, as well as a 10-game losing streak on the road, all in regulation.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks blow lead, fall to Islanders in SO]

“Through two, we have to be pretty pleased with our effort and what we did, but this is one of those games that we’ve seen in the past, you outplay a team but you don’t really have anything to show for it,” said Dan Boyle, although the Sharks did earn a point in the standings in the loss.

Joe Pavelski said: “Third period in our building up 2-0, we’ve got to win those games.”

The Sharks arguably deserved a better fate, outshooting New York 48-28. But by the time the Islanders tied the game late in the third period, the Sharks had to be kicking themselves for not increasing their advantage earlier.

Todd McLellan pointed out that lately, the opposing team’s goalie has been the first star of the game, including on Sunday when Josh Harding made 37 saves in a 3-1 win by Minnesota. Kevin Poulin was superb for the Islanders, too, especially in the first period. He finished with 46 stops, and despite seemingly getting hurt in the shootout, stayed in to record his fourth win against 11 losses.

Are the goalies playing that well, or can McLellan’s team do more?

“I think our team can do more,” McLellan said. “Poulin tonight was incredible, give him full marks for the saves he made, especially early in the game. But, we can’t let teams or goaltenders hang around like we are right now. We’ve got open nets, second chance opportunities that we’re not bearing down on, and that makes a huge difference in our game.”

Thomas Vanek’s goal after John Tavares’ powerful move to the net around Justin Braun got things started for New York just 51 seconds into the third.

“The first goal got them believing, got them going a little bit, and definitely changed the momentum of the game,” Boyle said.

The Sharks were never able to get that third marker of their own, despite 16 shots in the third, and New York tied it when Tavares’ faceoff win over Pavelski resulted in a Kyle Okposo wrist shot past Antti Niemi with 1:37 to go.

“It’s frustrating as a centerman, you’re having a pretty good night and lose the one and it ends up in your net,” said Pavelski, who finished 10-for-15 in the faceoff circle. “That’s the one you want. At the end of the day, it’s the one you’ve got to win.”

Analyzing the tying goal, McLellan said: “Lost it clean, scored short-side high. You’d like to get beat by a different shot and you’d like to be in the shooting lane, but you draw like that they’ve got one freebie and they made it count.”

Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the team’s shutdown defense pair, was on the ice for both of New York’s goals and each finished minus-2.

“Our shutdown group and guys that we rely on in that situation are getting beat right now, along with the goaltender. That has to improve,” McLellan said.

So, too, does the Sharks’ performance late in games when trying to protect a lead.

“You go into the third with a 2-0 lead, you want to close out those games,” Joe Thornton said.