Sharks Struggling to Close Out Games

Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau both picked up their team leading eighth goals of the season to put the Sharks up 4-2 against the Dallas Stars Thursday. But for the second night in a row, the fins came off for team teal.

On Wednesday the Sharks blew a two-goal third period lead in their overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche and essentially the same exact finish came to fruition against the Stars as Dallas came away with the 5-4, OT victory. Both games saw the Sharks apparently build a three-goal third period lead, but two video reviews denied goals for McGinn on Wednesday and for Marleau on Thursday. Regardless of whether or not each call was made correctly, the Sharks were clearly not good enough down the stretch in either contest to close the game out and finish with the two points.

On the bright side, the second line of Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski continued to produce as Clowe set up both Pavelski and Couture for tallies that tied and put the Sharks ahead in the middle frame. Pavelski scored on a wrap around when he was the lone skater to locate what was a loose puck and easily wrapped the puck home with Stars’ netminder Kari Lehtonen out of position. Couture benefited from a intended pass to Pavelski banking in off Stars’ defenseman Nicklas Grossman.

Midway through the third, Marleau wristed home a loose puck after his initial shot squeaked through the crease and at 4-2, the Sharks were sitting pretty.

But soon after that, Marleau’s near second goal of the game was called back on a high stick and the lead remained at two. From then on, the Sharks once again fell back into the same conservative style of play that cost them against the Avalanche and nearly cost them against the Flames this past Saturday.

Dallas carried the play in the final 10 minutes and wouldn’t you know it, in the span of 29 seconds, garbage goals by James Neal and Mike Ribeiro tied the score with just over two minutes remaining. While neither goal was of the pretty variety, it was clear that the Stars’ fowards were out working the beat up San Jose defense.

Those “garbage” goals come virtue of hard work and physical play, and the Sharks clearly could have used the talents of defenseman Douglas Murray and Niclas Wallin who both were held off the ice due to injury. It was Murray’s third straight game out of the lineup and Wallin’s second, and their absences were quite noticeable.

Defensively, it wasn’t necessarily that the two rookie defenseman filling in weren’t effective but rather that it forced the rest of the top-six defense corps in Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Kent Huskins and Jason Demers to all play more minutes than they have been accustomed to playing.

Dallas’ second goal of the game by Neal came on the power-play and Jason Demers was unable to box out Neal who re-directed the puck through the five-hole of Antti Niemi.

Normally, Murray or Wallin would be spending much more time on the penalty kill than the more offensive type specialist in Demers. Furthermore, Murray, who is Boyle’s usual defense partner would have been on the ice during Dallas’ OT goal instead of Vlasic. Yes, Murray could have made the same mistake of focusing too much on the puck rather than picking up his man, but Murray is much more accustomed to using his 6-foot-3, 240 pound frame to clear the crease, while Vlasic tends to overly rely on his stick to defend.

However, while obviously having their big body defenders back in the lineup would help close out games, the overall mentality when leading in the third period has to change.

Whether its with the puck or without it, the Sharks are not finishing off games properly. It almost reminds fans of the teams under former head coach Ron Wilson when the Sharks would continually sit back on their heels instead staying on the offensive.

In order to start closing games out, multiple changes are needed.

First of which is added pressure on the puck carrier and stronger physical play in the defensive zone. When Calgary pulled their netminder late in Saturday’s contest to go 6-on-5, the Flames were left with way too much time to pass the puck. With 11 guys on the ice, nobody should be able to pass the puck around as crisp as the Flames did. Jarome Iginla’s last minute goal in that game should not have happened.

Secondly, increasing the emphasis to keep tacking on goals is critical moving forward. Indeed, Couture managed to extend the lead to two against the Flames with just under six minutes to go and Marleau did the same against Dallas. Albeit, after these goals, the Sharks’ offensive play deteriorated quite significantly. Certainly making safe plays are a must when protecting the lead but that doesn’t necessarily mean reverting to just dump and chase.

The Sharks have now scored four, six, three, and four goals in each of the last four games but they have won just twice and have allowed seven third period goals in that span. Winning these tight games requires a complete 60 minute effort and especially with a weakened defense corps, playing to San Jose’s offensive strengths would seem ideal. Finding away to get that next goal to extend the lead would have most likely have sealed the deal in each of these past two games. So while the Sharks’ scoring is back, they still haven’t been able to put teams away.

It also doesn’t help that San Jose’s road power-play is now 0-for-their-last-19, including an 0-5 against Dallas Thursday. Had the Sharks been able to get merely one goal on the extended four minute power-play at the end of the second or the beginning of the third period, the game would have probably ended up in their favor. Unfortunately the power-play came up empty and the Sharks will have to settle for just the two points on the road trip instead of three.

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