This past weekend for the Sharks was about a mixed bag of results as you can have. The Sharks on Thursday battled the Montreal Canadians and earned at tough 4-3 shootout win that went to six rounds where Joe Pavelski scored the winner. Two nights later, the Sharks just simply were not on their game versus a very good Florida Panthers team that took advantage of team teals’ generous charity. The end result was a 5-3 loss that was frankly more embarrassing than anything. This loss ticked off Coach Todd McLellan so much that he had the team go through a mandatory practice the following day, focusing on multiple drills (back to basics). “Unfortunately, if we didn’t want to work today, we’ll find some time tomorrow to do it,” McLellan told the San Jose Mercury News during the post game media session.
I feel the one thing right now that is really hurting the Sharks aside from the giveaways and not making the most of their scoring opportunities maybe the one thing you cannot teach, and that is speed. I’ve noticed in both these games and the Vancouver game at the Tank on Nov 26th is that all three of these teams have one thing in common, speed. The Canucks, Canadians and Panthers all were faster to loose pucks than the Sharks. The team that gets to the puck first, particularly in the other teams defensive zone are usually able to hold and control the puck for longer periods of time. This creates more opportunities to draw penalties, create scoring chances, and ultimately get one in the net. When you are giving away the puck to a team that is faster as the Sharks did Saturday night, that is an absolute recipe for disaster. The drills the Sharks had Sunday realistically won’t address speed issues, but it could go a long way to eliminate costly mistakes and can make the difference between winning and losing. Though it’s early, if Coach McLellan is calling for a mandatory Sunday afternoon drill on what is normally a team off day, he’s seeing trends that need to be corrected and quickly. Coach McLellan made the right call, and I was pleased to see he was as angry as most of us were after the Panthers debacle Saturday Night. About the games…
A shootout to remember – The Sharks had a tough time with Montreal Thursday Night and admittedly I was concerned that they could pull this game out of the fire. The Sharks despite having being outplayed to a degree in the final period never quit pressuring Canadians goalie Carey Price. Ryane Clowe’s goal with 1:26 left in regulation gave the Sharks a 3-3 tie at a point in a game that was huge, as the Sharks spent a good portion of the evening trading punches with the Canadians. The Sharks would fall behind by one goal three times in this game, and the first two times the Sharks were able to answer within a minute and a half later. Goals from Montreal’s Michael Cammalleri and David Desharnais were offset by goals from Jamie McGinn and Logan Couture. Erik Cole put the Canadians up 3-2 halfway through the period, and though the Sharks would eventually tie the game late, the Canadians certainly made them work for it.
After a scoreless OT, the game went to a shootout were the Sharks again had to earn the victory. In six rounds, Martin Havlet and Michal Handzus scored but were matched by the Canadians Brian Gionta and David Desharnais. Finally, it came down to Pavelski, who was able to stair down C Price and go five-hole for the winner. Sharks goalie Antti Niemi, who made 41 saves on the evening, had to come up with the game saving “save”. Niemi was able to kick away an attempt to tie the shootout by P K Subban. The fans got their money’s worth on this evening as both goalies made several saves in high pressure situations.
Panthers Celebrate Christmas 22 days early – I don’t know if the San Jose Sharks promotions department planned a give away for Satruday’s game versus the Florida Panthers. If they did, I’m almost certain the game itself wasn’t one of them. However, one bad 2nd period had the Panthers fans watching on TV in Miami very excited while the Sharks faithful at the Tank and myself watching on Centre Ice were just banging their heads against the nearest wall. The second period was about as bad of a period as you can play, and defensive lapses were the order of the evening. Three giveaways led directly to all 3 Panthers goals scored in this period, the final of which being the “dagger” coming in the form of short handed goal. (Short handed goals change games, I may have mentioned that before).
Former Shark Marco Sturm, Tomas Fleischmann and finally Jack Skille all made the Sharks pay for their basic carelessness in their own zone as each had a goal in this disasterous period. Logan Couture had a two goal night for the Sharks, but this was over shadowed by what was basically a lousy team game and an overall bad night at the Tank. Thomas Griess made 30 saves but took the loss. I’m not going to use the excuse that the Montreal game took something out of the Sharks here, however it seemed that they were a step behind the Panthers the entire game, even after the first period when the Sharks held a 2-1 lead. It was a combination of Florida’s speed, determination and the ability to do one other thing that they Sharks clearly lost sight off…and that is “focus”. Even if a team can beat you to pucks, a team will still have a reasonably good chance in the game if they can maintain their focus. In the Panthers’ game, the Sharks lost their focus and even though they played a better third period, the damage was already done for the evening.
Time for Something Wild – The Minnesota Wild make their second apperence of the season at the Sharks Tank Tuesday Night. This will be the Wild’s last visit to the Tank this season barring a playoff match up in the spring. The Wild come into this game with a 17-7-3 mark and in a position unaccustomed to this franchise, first place in the overall Western Conference standings (leading the Sharks by 8 points, 37-29. The Sharks have played four fewer games). The Wild are lead by Matt Cullen, Kyle Brodziak, as well as former Sharks Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley who have 8 goals each. Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard are amongst the leaders in assists. Wild goalies Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding are both having solid seasons and have three shutouts between them.
The Sharks won the first meeting between these two teams by a 3-1 count on November 10th. The Wild however have done pretty well since their last trip to the Tank and look off to feed off the energy of a 5-3 win in Anaheim on Sunday, and a current four game winning streak. The Sharks will have their hands full Tuesday Night and need to come into this game a lot more focused than they were against Florida. I have a pretty good idea that the Sharks will be ready for this match for the simple reason on Sunday they were reminded by Coach McLellan and staff that their level of play has to start to pick up. It may only be December, however Saturday’s game raised some red flags and the Sharks themselves know through 23 games they’ve been a little below par. Attention to detail and the ability to focus will correct a lot of mistakes. If the Sharks can do that they’ll be fine. If not, things are only going to get harder…
The King Shark