The Sharks played a rough 180+ scoreless minutes on the road, being shut out in three consecutive road games. They lost to Calgary by a score of 4-0, Minnesota 1-0, and St. Louis 2-0.
In all three games they were able to sustain a large amount of pressure on opposing goaltenders, but the scoring touch is missing for the Sharks on the road.
In Calgary, all the pressure came from the secondary lines; the top line was almost a no show for most of the game. The player who generated the most shots against the Flames was Joe Pavelski with six, a player missing the scoring touch so far this season.
The top three lines for the Sharks did a good job putting pucks on net against Minnesota while a lot of shots were blocked by the Wild defense. Niklas Backstrom played splendidly to make sure the Sharks were held scoreless.
Against St. Louis, each Sharks line applied a large amount of pressure on the Blues’ D-men and netminder. The Sharks, however, eventually lost their composure against the Blues. Their discipline issues could have cost them the game. The boarding penalties were out of control and the offensive zone penalties cannot continue.
The most damaging penalties committed came from Captain Joe Thornton.
As captain, Thornton needs to lead the team by example which includes not taking bad penalties. Niclas Wallin had already been called for boarding when Thornton took the initial penalty. Worse than that was the hit that he served the Blues’ David Perron as he returned to the ice from his boarding penalty, which could have cost him a suspension. Following the Major was Dany Heatley’s boarding penalty, a huge mistake that could have put the Blues on a five-on-three power play. The bottom line is that the Sharks must exhibit better discipline.
On the brighter side of the penalties, the penalty killing was spectacular early on, keeping the blues power play 0-for-6. The killers were aggressive and sharp. During the three Blues’ power plays, they did not allow the Blues’ power play to set up and move the puck around. They even had a couple good scoring chances. Later in the game, when the Blues did not attempt to set up a power play, the Sharks’ killers were on their heels a little but stayed in good position to not give up the ice in front of Antti Niemi.
The Sharks offense was good in the game. Before “Jumbo Joe” got ejected, the best line was the Logan Couture, Jamie McGinn, and Devin Setoguchi. When the lines needed to be played with following Thornton’s game misconduct, the two best were Heatley and Couture who were robbed of goals by Jaroslav Halak. Pavelski and Jamal Mayers both had breakaways on which there was no excuse for not hitting the net.
For the team to be successful on the road, players need to be better on quality scoring chances. Screens in front of goaltenders are not there, many times the Sharks are impatient with the puck and shooting into blocked lanes, and they have not been able to crash the net and find rebounds. Until these change, winning on the road will be tough.
The defense laid back and watched the Perron and David Backes walk in on Niemi. Luckily for the Sharks, the Blues’ goal was called off when Backes got shoved by Douglas Murray into Niemi and was called for goaltender interference. Perron easily penetrated the slot during the four on four with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Murray watching. The defense needs to be more aggressive covering players moving to the front of the net so wins can start piling up.
Niemi was not very active at the beginning of the game against the Blues. He gave up the first goal to Matt D’agostini on a shot that should not have gone in. Not challenging the shooter, Niemi was beaten stick side. Niemi plays better when he sees more shots. He bounced back from giving up the bad goal to D’agostini when things got busy for him after the Thronton major in the second period until the desperate last minutes of the game.
Overall, Niemi played his best game so far, making a few big saves, his finest against Perron’s glove side attempt during the second period four on four. He seemed to have overcompensated for his lateral movement issues when he vacated his short side when a fluttering pass hit Perron and he knocked it out of midair through the gaping short side hole Niemi left open.