After opening up the season with a 3-2 win over Columbus on Friday, the Sharks were attempting to finish their trip with a perfect four points on Saturday in their final game from Sweden. Unfortunately for San Jose, Ethan Moreau’s OT winner put an end to those hopes as the Blue-Jackets knocked of the Sharks by a 3-2 final.
While the loss won’t sit well with Todd McLellan and the rest of the Sharks, they ought to feel fortunate to be returning home with three out of four possible points.
Between the two games, the Sharks managed just a single even strength goal which came within the first five minutes of Friday’s opener. In the 120 odd minutes of hockey they played since that opening goal by Torrey Mitchell, the Sharks have been held off the scoreboard five-on-five.
And although four power-play tallies in two games sounds impressive, (their season percentage sits a strong 28.6 percent) on Saturday the Sharks failed to convert on four straight second period power-plays. Starting with Antoine Vermette’s slashing minor just under a minute into the middle frame, the Sharks were on the power-play for eight of the next 12 minutes of action. Yet even with all that time on the man-advantage the Sharks could not manage to break the 1-1 tie from the first period and the score would remain the same heading into the second intermission.
On a positive note, San Jose’s defensive zone coverage improved throughout Saturday’s game than it was just 24 hours earlier. The Sharks limited the Blue-Jackets to just 25 shots on goal, seven fewer than they allowed on Friday night.
But when teams fail to find the back of the net on a consistent basis, little mistakes tend to loom large. Even with the improved defense, a couple of individual gaffs were absolutely killer on Saturday.
Antero Niittymaki, who got his first start between the pipes on the second of back to backs, let a simple bad-angled shot by Rick Nash squeak through his pads to tie the score at 1-1 early in the first period. Nash’s tally would be the only goal worth criticizing Niittymaki for but these are the types of goals that are back breakers no matter when they are scored. Sharks fans know all too well from the years with Nabokov about how fluky, excuse me goals can seemingly dampen a team’s morale.
The second crucial mistake ended up leading to the game-winning goal. Dany Heatley attempted to bulldoze his way into the Columbus zone but turned the puck over at the blue-line (an example of those gray area turnovers which Sharks color commentator Drew Remenda often emphasizes). Heatley fell on the play and with three of the four Sharks skaters jumping up in the rush, the turnover led directly to an odd man rush and Moreau’s OT winner.
Obviously there is no denying Heatley’s offensive talent but poor plays like Saturday’s gaff in overtime add more fuel to the fire that Heatley often plays a selfish brand of hockey. Instead of dumping the puck deep on Saturday, he tried to take on two defenders all by himself.
Turnovers of this fashion will always be highlighted when they involve No. 15 for San Jose. Deservedly or not, Heatley’s character is continuously debated by fans because of the major bridge he burned when he left Ottawa last year. Case in point, youtube videos like this one aren’t exactly speaking highly of the Shark winger:
And considering videos likes this aren’t made for just any player, it is a legitimate concern for Sharks fans whether or not Heatley is a right fit for this team. However, we are a long ways away from a potential Ottawa-esque scenario evolving in San Jose and the 2010-11 season is just barely under way.
Plenty of Shark players have jumped out of the game with a strong two games in Sweden; most notiably Joe Thornton, Antti Niemi, Jason Demers, Ryane Clowe and Joe Pavelski. Those five along with the rest of Team Teal will now enjoy six days off before for returning to HP Pavilion, aka “The Shark Tank” to open up in front of their home crowd next Saturday night against Atlanta.