60 Minutes of Absolute Zero- Minnesota Wild Goalie Niklas Backstrom made 33 saves, including 19 in the third period as the San Jose Sharks had no answers Saturday afternoon in a 2-0 loss at the Xcel Energy Center in St Paul. Backstrom’s goal tending was supported by goals from Zach Parise and Jared Spurgeon, who took advantage of two team teal ill timed penalties. Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter has two assists each for the home standing Wild who took the first of three meeting between the two teams over their final 18 games of the lockout shortened regular season. For the Wild, they are in third place overall in the Western Conference Standings and continue to lead the Northwest Division. The Wild are 14-5-1 over their last 20 games, and have won eight of their last 11. The Sharks meanwhile are still heading in the opposite direction having dropped their 17th game in their last 23. The Sharks still sit in eighth place in the Western Conference Standings pending on the results of other games to be played Saturday evening.
The Sharks best chances at a goal were all during the first period when Andrew Desjardens was awarded a penalty shot which Backstrom had no problem with saving. Later in the first period with the Sharks on a power play, Dan Boyle had a blistering slap shot turned away by Backstrom. The Wild goalie also made a huge save on a point blank scoring attempt by former teammate Brent Burns. Meanwhile Antti Niemi also made some impressive saves early on. The most impressive came on a point blank scoring attempt by the Wild’s Matt Cullen. Of all of the former Sharks on the Wild’s roster, only Devin Setoguchi would have an impact on the game’s outcome, but it would be huge as he was able to draw James Sheppard into an interference penalty in the second period. In an oddity, the Sharks actually got credit for a penalty kill despite the fact Parise would score what later proved to be the game winning goal. Parise’s goal scored at the exact tick of the clock that the penalty expired and Sheppard was exiting the penalty box.
Frustration Overload- Throughout the first two periods, the Sharks were out shot 19-14 however did not suffer from the lack of decent scoring chances. The downfall for the Sharks Saturday afternoon may have had more to do with the fact they were dealing with another team who had over the last year become superior to them and in the overall play it simply just showed. The Wild were faster to loose pucks and seemed to play with a better sense of purpose, not that the Sharks didn’t. Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Martin Havlat, Burns and Boyle combined for 24 of the Sharks 33 shots on goal. In the third period, Marleau missed a wide open net opportunity. Earlier, Pavelski got everything into the net except for the puck. The Wild didn’t even play their “A Game” throughout the third period however it was as if they almost did really have to either. The Sharks put 19 pucks on net in the final period and somehow could not get anything by Backstrom or into a stationary object. You have to give Backstrom credit too as he did play a strong game. As for Niemi, he made 22 saves himself and was actually better in net Saturday than he was against the Oilers two days earlier. However, as is true with any goalie, they are only as good as the defense plays in front of them. The Wild’s power plays saw the Sharks penalty kill units get worked.
It did make things easier for team teal that Boyle drew tripping penalty as the second period drew to a close. The Wild took full advantage of this opportunity and made the Sharks pay as Spurgeon took a feed pass from Koivu and drilled a slap shot past Niemi to give the Wild a two goal lead just 1:17 into the final period. From this point for the final 18:43 remaining, it was Backstrom and the Sharks inability to find the back of the Minnesota goal despite the multiple shots on goal and opportunities they had. The Sharks power play remained ice cold as they were 0 for 4 on the day. The only excitement for the Sharks after Minnesota took the lead may have been when Tommy Wingles and former Shark Torrey Mitchell got into a scrap during the Sharks third power play opportunity of the day. Perhaps this had to do with Wingles being stuck with the cable tv bill after Mitchell left for the Wild.
With the loss, the only thing the Sharks could do is hit the showers, hit the Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport and fly back to California. The bad news is the flight is to Anaheim, for another date with the arch rival Ducks who the Sharks may have a hard time just staying on the ice with. The good news, they have over 48 hours to contemplate what they are going to do come Monday night. They’ll need it.
Shark Bytes- The three stars of the game were all from the Wild, 3) Zach Parise, 2) Ryan Sutter, 1) Niklas Backstrom. Former Sharks Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle along with Mitchell and Setoguchi did not really factor into the scoresheet Saturday afternoon. Ryane Clowe recovering from an injury suffered in the first game of the road trip in Los Angeles made an appearance in the Sharks Comcast broadcast booth today. Clowe feels he should be ready to go come Monday night versus the Ducks. The Sharks are 1-3-0 on their five game road swing.
Next Sharks Game- The fifth and final game of this road trip is Monday night as the Sharks take on their arch rivals in Anaheim for the second consecutive Monday. The Sharks are 1-2-0 versus the Ducks this year, dropping both games in Anaheim including last Monday’s 5-3 decision. The Ducks Friday night saw their 13 game home winning streak snapped by the Detroit Red Wings in a 5-1 loss. The Ducks will play the Red Wings again Sunday early evening before taking on the Sharks again on Monday. The game is at 7pm PT.
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