SAN JOSE- After a convincing opening-night win over Phoenix, the Sharks had five days off. That first game after the long layoff was a dreadfully sloppy game on Friday night, a 1-0 loss in Anaheim against the rival Ducks.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that getting right back on the horse on Saturday night was just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately for the Sharks, Saturday night’s 4-2 loss at the hands of the St. Louis Blues was only more of the same.
“I thought the first period was sloppy… like the Anaheim game,” commented Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle. “We had a pretty strong second [but] they scored two quick goals.”
The Blues and the Sharks swapped goals in an opening period that seemed to be played more like a game of who doesn’t want the puck versus who does. Giveaways were the name of the game early on, especially on the Sharks end.
Defenseman Jason Demers miscommunicated with center Logan Couture in the Sharks zone which led to an unassisted goal for Matt D’Agostini just under three minutes into the first stanza.
San Jose managed to get the equalizer late in the period when Michal Handzus backhanded home a loose puck from just outside the crease at 18:44. From that point on through the second period, the Sharks had found their legs.
Their top line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski created numerous chances in the middle frame and Brent Burns would score his first goal as a Shark. A simple enough looking wrist shot from the point deflected off a one of the Blues forwards and past Blues netminder Brian Elliott.
After 40 minutes, San Jose found themselves leading 2-1, and dominating in both shots (23-12) and face-offs (26-13).
Even though San Jose was playing with seven defenseman in the lineup, many of the different forward combinations clicked as head coach Todd McLellan juggled the lines around.
Numerous role playing forwards put forth more than adequate performances including fourth liners Andrew Murray and Brad Winchester as well as Handzus and Torrey Mitchell.
But overall cohesiveness ended up being San Jose’s primary downfall.
During the third period an innocent enough looking shot from former Shark Kent Huskins beat Sharks netminder Thomas Greiss through a screen and just like that the momentum the Sharks created in the middle frame was gone.
The game was now tied early in the third and by the midway point the Blues had re-taken the lead. An indecisive pinch in the offensive zone by Brent Burns led to a beautifully executed three-on-two rush the other way. Up and coming defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and veteran forward Jason Arnott teamed up to set up center Alex Steen with an easy goal to the short-side of Greiss who had little chance to make the stop.
San Jose would get their chances to tie the score at three, two of the notable variety but neither Patrick Marleau nor Dan Boyle could find the back of the net before the Blues’ David Backes sealed the deal with an empty netter.
Not surprisingly, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan wasn’t pleased with his team’s performance.
“The puck was on the right guy’s tape at the right time.” chimed McLellan. “Patty is looking at him in the eyes, Dany Boyle has an open net. You have to be sharp throughout the night to bury those, you can’t just count on it in that last moment. [It was] a Jekyll and Hyde night, I’m disappointed in our start. We weren’t prepared to play a grind it out game. They wanted to play this fancy puck possession stuff against a team who wanted to grind it out.”
Only three games are in the books but it looks as if getting off to a hot start might be harder than previously thought for the Sharks. With all the weapons there is no denying that this team will be a legitimate contender come playoff time but with so many new faces, growing pains are inevitable.
Burns in particular seems to be the type of player who will need extra time to acclimate his style within the Sharks system. The first year Shark defenseman took off through the neutral zone on one notable shift Saturday night but the pass simply never came his way.
Furthermore, neither Antti Niemi nor Martin Havlat have seen game action. Once they do, there will be even more adjustments to be made as players get acquainted to each others tendencies.
There are communication issues and chemistry issues but some of that has to be expected.
After all, the calender still reads October.