The San Jose Sharks completed what may be one of their worst road trips in recent franchise history Sunday evening. Team teal blew a two goal first period lead and collapsed in the final 5 1/2 minutes of the third period in a baffling 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild. Matt Cullen scored twice, and former Shark Jed Ortmeyer scored the game winner with just over four minutes remaining as the Sharks were once again denied points in the standings for the eight time in the last 12 games. The Sharks finish this nine game road trip with a less than impressive 2-6-1 mark and are barely clinging to the 7th seed in the Western Conference overall standings.
To add insult to injury, Logan Couture took quite the beating in the game by the Wild who clearly were targeting him. Couture left the game early in the third period with a lower body injury and did not return. His availability for the Sharks next game Tuesday night against Philadelphia is in question. Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan also ended the trip amongst the walking wounded as he took an inadvertent stick to the head by the Wild’s Marco Scandella who was tangled up with Jamie McGinn in front of the Sharks bench early in the second period.
This trip certainly took it’s toll on team teal who at one time lead the Phoenix Coyotes by 12 points in the standings on February 3rd. Fast forward 23 days, Phoenix is not atop the Pacific Division as the Sharks now only have one game in hand over them. The Sharks are only one point ahead of the 8th place Dallas Stars and three points ahead of the L A Kings, who sit in the 9th spot in the Western Conference. As the Sharks return home with just 21 games remaining, they are in the fight they probably would have just as soon avoided. That would be the fight just to even make the playoffs. Three of those 21 games are against the Coyotes, and now anything can happen.
Recapping The Last Game of a Brutal Roadie:
Sharks Fast Out of The Gate- The Sharks started this game in a similar fashion to what the Nashville Predators did to the Sharks just 22 hours earlier. Team teal scored twice in the first 3:21 of the game and were up 2-0 before most seats at the Xcel Engergy Center were warm. Tommy Wingles opened the scoring for the Sharks just 63 seconds into the game as he took a perfect feed pass from Jamie McGinn who was behind the Minnesota goal. Wingles slammed the puck into the net before Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom could get ahold of it. Team Captain Joe Thornton would follow Wingles’ goal just over two minutes later as he slammed the puck into the back of the net after Backstrom failed to control a tip in attempt by Torrey Mitchell off of a slap shot from Brent Burns. The Sharks seemingly looked determined to do what they could to salvage the final game of this tough road trip. The Sharks would continue to spend a good amount of time in the Minnesota zone only to see the Wild start to block shots and flood the passing lanes, taking some of the pressure off of Backstrom.
On the other side of the ice was Sharks back-up goalie Thomas Greiss, starting in place of Antti Niemi who just hasn’t been right of late. With just over 11 minutes to go in the period, the Wild would get their first break of the game when Cal Clutterbuck would take a loose puck from deep in his own zone and proceed to go coast to coast with it. Clutterbuck went virtually unchallenged by the Sharks defense. When Clutterbuck found an opening to shoot the puck, he drilled a slap shot from near the right corner that beat Greiss. Despite the Wild’s score the Sharks carried the play for most of the period and would continue to challenge Backstrom who was now in a rhythm. Backstrom turned away each and every shot except one. Mitchell in one late Shark flurry got the puck on his stick and had an empty net to shoot out, and for some reason opted to pass the puck rather than shoot it. As for Greiss, he was fairly effective in making six saves for the period.
Second Period Pain- The Wild would start the second period on a power play thanks to a late roughing penalty to McGinn towards the end of the opening period. The Sharks would kill this penalty, however before you could say “penalty kill” Ben Ferriero would draw a hooking violation. Minnesota wasted no time on this second consecutive power play opportunity as Nick Schultz would drill a slap shot past Greiss to tie the game off of the face off. Greiss just a moment earlier robbed former Shark Dany Heatley with a point blank opportunity and seemed to be on top of his game, but the Sharks continued parade to the penalty box was not helping their cause or Greiss’. Just a moment later Sharks Head Coach McLellan sustained a head injury as he took a stick to the head durring a play next to the Sharks bench. After moments of wondering what was wrong, McLellan was helped off of the bench into the Sharks dressing room. McLellan would not return, turning over the night’s head coaching duties to Assistant Coach Matt Shaw.
The rest of the period saw the Sharks chasing the puck up and down the ice as the Wild were dominant. The Sharks would only manage two shots on goal for the period while Greiss had to fend of 12 shots from the Wild who has several close chances that just missed. The Sharks looked as if they were catching a break when they would get a power play opportunity as Minnesota’s Kyle Brodziak was called for goalie interference. There were only two shots on goal during this power play for the Sharks, and team teal only had one of the two. The other shot on goal was from the Wild’s Matt Cullen who jumped all over a neutral zone turn over by Burns. Cullen was one on one with Greiss, and it would be Greiss who won the battle making the save and preventing what would have been a game changing short handed goal.
An Unspeakable Collapse- In the third period the Sharks and Wild would trade scoring chances early, with the Sharks looking like the team that was starting to regain their momentum. Backstrom held the fort for the Wild as he made several saves to keep the game even at 2-2. Eventually the Sharks got what looked to be a huge break when Minnesota’s Warren Peters was called for holding with 12:26 remaining. The Sharks made the most of the power play chance as Burns would drill a slap shot from the right point that beat Backstrom to give the Sharks the lead again at 3-2. Burns goal was the result of a perfect feed pass from Thornton after Patrick Marleau had fished the rubber biscuit out from behind the Wild’s net. Team teal now had the lead and 11:15 left to maintain it. The Sharks had a few more runs at the Wild defensive zone however could not find another goal. The Sharks held up defensively until there were five and a half minutes remaining in the game. This is where the levy would break for team teal.
The Wild would take the game right out of the Sharks hands with two goals within a span of 1:14. The first goal came with 5:27 remaining when Cullen tipped Scandella’s slap shot from the left point past Greiss to tie the game. Shortly there after, the Wild quickly struck again when former Shark Jed Ortmeyer tipped in another slap shot, this time from the right point by Jared Spurgeon. With just 4:13 remaining, the Sharks in the time it took to take an early lead now saw the lead wiped out and found themselves trailing for the first time all evening. The Sharks did all they could to get the tying goal but would get no more past Backstrom. The Sharks best chance here came with just under a minute remaining when Joe Pavelski was staring at a wide open net but missed the puck as it came towards him.
Game, Set, Match, Road Trip Over!
Game Analysis- In some ways the eighth and ninth games of a murderous 2-6-1 road trip best summed up the road trip. In some games the Sharks seemed to be a day late, while in others they came up a dollar short. Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Wild was once again a tale of the Sharks coming up a dollar short as they just collapsed late and could not pull themselves up despite having a two goal lead early. In this game, it was not about how the Sharks started but how they finished. The start was great, the finish was just another in a long list of disappointments for this road trip. The Sharks did a lot of good things in this game, but in the end were just still good enough to lose. They played a better game then the night before against Nashville, but now that matters not. The Sharks to me were barley in the game during the second period and if it wasn’t for Greiss once again standing on his head and earning combat pay, Minnesota could have buried the Sharks right there.
We are as of this writing at the eve of the NHL trading deadline. The trading deadline is 12 Noon Pacific Time on Monday (2/27). I have no idea what Sharks management has in mind at this point, however one thing seems for certain. The Sharks as they are now are simply not a Stanley Cup Contender and will struggle just to get into the post season. Their only path to even make it to the second round of the post season tournament is to regain the number three seeding which they lost over the weekend. The only thing I can say here is what I twittered some 30 minutes after this game had ended, and it was simply this:
“Doug Wilson, the next more is yours. You are now on the clock.”
If the Sharks get Douglas Murray, Dominic Moore and Martin Havlet back at 100 percent, and Couture is not too seriously hurt, the Sharks could still put together a much needed streak over the last 21 games. If they are to do that, they are clearly going to need some help and not just from the four players mentioned. That help may have to come from the outside.
GO SHARKS!!! WHAT’S DONE IS DONE!
GET HOME SAFE, GET READY FOR PHILLY ON TUESDAY!!!
The King Shark
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