After picking up an impressive nine out of a possible 10 points on a five-game home-stand, the Sharks started out on the first of a short, two-game, back-to-back road trip Wednesday night in Colorado.
And while San Jose seemed to dominate for the first 40 minutes–staking themselves to a 3-1 lead through two periods–the Avalanche fought back to tie in the third and ended up winning, 4-3, in overtime.
While San Jose will pickup a point in the standings, the loss certainly won’t go over well in the locker room.
Early on though, the Sharks were rolling as they broke a 180+ minute road scoring drought when Logan Couture chipped in a puck that had trickled behind Aves netminder Peter Budaj less than a minute into the game. Both Ryane Clowe and Joe Pavelski picked up the assists as the trio has now combined for four goals in three games in which all of them have participated in the scoring play.
Colorado managed to the tie the game on the power-play late in the first when rookie defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk scored his first career NHL goal but the Sharks took over in the middle frame.
Joe Thornton played arguably his best period of the season in the second, highlighted by a brilliant cross-crease feed to Dan Boyle just over a minute in. Boyle, San Jose’s most prolific offensive defenseman buried the pass into the back of the net to put the Sharks up 2-1.
Later in the frame, Sharks’ rookie defenseman Mike Moore picked up his first career NHL goal on a simple wrist shot from the point to put San Jose up by two. Now Dany Heatley, who picked up the lone assist on the play, brilliantly set-up San Jose’s other rookie defenseman, Derek Joslin, for a quality chance that went off the post just a couple minutes prior.
In fact, while Moore would be the only Shark rookie to find the back of the net, the Sharks as a whole were all over the Avalanche throughout the middle frame. San Jose out-shot Colorado 15-3 and looked to be on cruise control.
Heatley and Thornton were creating chances left and right, and the aforementioned second-line continued to dominate in the offensive zone. Combine those efforts with Dan Boyle who has been playing his best hockey as of late and the game looked to end up in the Sharks’ favor.
However, a key missed call by the video goal judge and the NHL headquarters in Toronto took away what should have been a third period goal by Jamie McGinn at the 6:35 mark.
When Boyle had driven to the net and gotten a tough shot away to the short-side of Budaj, the puck went high into the air over Budaj’s head and slowly fell down into the crease behind him. McGinn beautifully held back from touching the puck until it fell below the cross bar and then nicked it down over the line for what should have been a good goal. The call on the ice was of a high touch, but the puck clearly did not change direction until it fell below the cross bar.
Instead of going up 4-1, the score remained 3-1 and Colorado seemed to get some life back as Chris Stewart quickly got the Aves back within one. At 8:38, Stewart converted through Sharks goalie Antero Niittymaki’s five-hole when he entered the Sharks zone at full speed down the right wing and unleashed a quick wrister.
While San Jose seemed to calm things down after Stewart’s goal, Colorado’s all-star center Paul Stastny ripped home a bad angled shot from the left of Niittymaki with just over five minutes remaining. Nothing really the Sharks could have done differently on the particular play itself but as a team the Sharks were sitting on their heels the entire second half of the period.
After Stastny’s tally, the Avalanche proceeded to have numerous looks to win the game out-right without needing overtime. Niittymaki had to be strong to keep the game tied in the final few minutes. It couldn’t have been easy as Niittymaki had barely seen 15 shots through the first 50 minutes.
However, while Niittymaki was able to keep the score tied into overtime, the goal in which he let up in the extra session was his second questionable goal allowed on the night.
Granted his defenseman, Kent Huskins, made a terrible read in the neutral zone which caused Kevin Porter’s semi-breakaway opportunity, but Niittymaki should have been able to come up with the stop. Huskins got back into the play and forced Porter wide to the back-hand but Porter’s backhander beat Niittymaki along the ice and through the five-hole.
Now offensively the Sharks got plenty of chances for the third straight game in a row. With four, six ,and three goal efforts in the past three games, the struggle to score goals in the prior few games has been erased.
Defense and goaltending on the other hand have been hit and miss over the last few games.
Monday’s contest against the Kings was definitely the most complete performance of the season as the Sharks were excellent in all phases. But Antti Niemi and the defensive play against Calgary wasn’t nearly as sharp as it needs to be and the same can be said for Niittymaki and the defensive play in Colorado.
Both goaltenders have had suspect five-holes as of late and Huskins’ gaff in overtime is simply inexcusable. Instead of falling back and defending the attack, Huskins stabbed at the puck in the neutral zone, missed, and was all turned around. He subsequently lost his positioning and had to back check on Porter. With below average speed, Huskins couldn’t get back in time to knock the puck away.
Against the Flames, the Sharks nearly let Calgary come-back from a two-goal deficit in the third with extremely soft defending and on Wednesday they did allow the Avalanche to storm back.
While the goaltending can be better, the Sharks clearly have to improve in closing out games. Look for a point of emphasis moving forward to be intensifying the defensive zone pressure when protecting a lead and making smarter plays in one-on-one situations.