Sharks powerless in loss to Detroit, lose 5-3

SAN JOSE CA - NOVEMBER 30: Henrik Zetterberg #40 celebrates with Pavel Datsyuk #13 and Jonathan Ericsson #52 of the Detroit Red Wings after Zetterberg scored a goal against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion on November 30 2010 in San Jose California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Sharks were able to get two points in Edmonton with only four defensemen. Detroit, however, was much more prepared to exploit the Sharks' injury situation, scoring five goals en route to a resounding win at HP Pavilion.

Many of Detroit's goals came at the expense of the Sharks' young defensemen, who had trouble wrenching the puck away from the Red Wings' familiar cast of forwards-- Pavel Datsyuk had a goal that immediately made highlight reels across the country, while Dan Cleary, Henrik Zetterberg (2), and Patrick Eaves all added tallies of their own.

San Jose received goals from Dany Heatley, Benn Ferriero, and Ryane Clowe, with Joe Thornton picking up his 500th point as a Shark on Heatley's tally.

Although the Worcester Three were on the wrong end of the scoresheet for most of the night (something we'll get to later), Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan cited his more experienced veterans as the ones who didn't deliver in the matchup against the Red Wings.

"I thought for the most part they [Braun, Joslin, Moore] held their own. I look at our overall game and the overall team, I thought we were missing three or four guys who could have made a huge impact on the game," McLellan said during his press conference. "It wasn't the young defenseman, it was a couple guys we count on. When we're in this situation we need them. And we are going to need them in Ottawa. They have to find a way to contribute a little bit more."

The Sharks found themselves in a familiar place early, victims of a Daniel Cleary power play goal just 4:50 into the game. Braun, who played his fair share of minutes shorthanded tonight at 2:52, was caught high in the zone overplaying the puck carrier. After the feed went across the ice, Dan Cleary, who was parked right in front of Antero Niittymaki, benefitted from an easy tap in to put the Red Wings up 1-0.

Just 3:11 later, Detroit cashed in again. Pavel Datsyuk made a beautiful move to get behind the Sharks defense, slipping one past Niittymaki and putting the Sharks down by two. At that point, HP Pavilion seemed drained, as electric as earlier in the day when the building lost power for eight hours.

Life returned, albeit for a short while, after Joe Thornton banked a puck off Dany Heatley and past Jimmy Howard on the Sharks first power play opportunity of the evening. It was Thornton's 500th point as a Shark, and the goal an encouraging sign given the Sharks recent struggles on the power play. The team would finish the night one for two on the man advantage. 

Those three goals would make up the scoring in the first. The Sharks, although beaten twice on the scoreboard, dominated the shot clock to the tune of 15-9.

The second period would mirror the first however, as Henrik Zetterberg scored just 2:38 in. Although the tally will go into the books as an even strength marker, it was scored just four seconds after a tripping minor to Logan Couture. Detroit's passing game had the Sharks spinning all night, and this power play was no exception; the Sharks struggled to clear the puck, let alone get a line change.

Credit to the Sharks third line, though, for answering back quickly. Ben Ferriero scored a highlight reel goal, going hard to the net and getting one past Howard.

"I just tried to get in front of the net and get some of those dirty goals and luckily the puck was there for me to put in," Ferriero said. "Detroit has a bunch of big strong guys in front of the net, and they're getting older and know what to do in front of the net. You've just got to fight for your space and find loose pucks there."

It was Ferriero's second goal in his current two game stint with the NHL club; as he did during last year's training camp, Ferriero is making a case to stick with the team going forward.

That momentum was lost when Patrick Eaves pounded the puck past Niittymaki with just 10 second left in the period. A glaring mistake by Braun, who attempted to leave the zone too early, led to the tally. The Red Wings successfully tilted the ice after each of the Sharks' markers, making it difficult for San Jose to build any type of momentum. With a late second period goal, the Red Wings turned a close game into an uphill battle for the teal and white.

Even still, the game was close in terms of possession time and shots heading into the third frame. After the late second period goal, however, Detroit didn't let up. The Wings possessed the puck for the majority of the third, getting another score from Zetterberg (his fourth point on the night) to put the game completely out of reach.

Ryane Clowe added his fifth goal of the season with 2:32 left, but at that point it was too late. The Sharks pulled Niittymaki shortly thereafter, but couldn't generate opportunities with their six star players on the ice.

As we mentioned before tonight's game, Justin Braun has impressed us with his ability to move the puck up the ice and get shots through from the point. Tonight he struggled at some notable moments however, getting victimized on a couple of bad reads and poor decisions with the puck. It's something that every young defenseman goes through early in his career, and when you're seeing 19:28 against the best team in the Western Conference, there's not a lot of places you can hide.

Derek Joslin and Mike Moore were on the ice for far less goals than Braun, seeing 12:50 and 10:22 in ice time respectively. Joslin played well in his limited minutes, showcasing some nifty lateral movement to get the puck through traffic on Ferriero's second goal, as well a a physicality along the boards that has begun to blossom as his professional career progresses. Moore stayed away from some of the more notable Wings forwards, finishing with only a -1, but made a glaring error on the fifth goal that led to a 5-2 Detroit lead. With Boyle open behind the net waiting for the puck, Moore attempted to squeeze an outlet pass up center ice.

It was something Detroit head coach Mike Babcock had clearly identified before the game as an area where the Red Wings could flourish.

""I just thought that the big this is that we were able to take advantage of their defense tonight. We knew coming in that was going to be an issue for them, and we spent some minutes in their zone" Babcock said. "It was a good road win for us and starts off the trip the way you want."

Babcock's game plan of going after the Worcester Three was apparent from the opening whistle. Blanketing the young Sharks defenseman with two forecheckers when they had the puck, compared to a less aggressive formation when Boyle or Vlasic had the puck, was something the precision based Wings had no problem executing. Furthermore, in most zone entries off a dump in, the puck would be placed on Braun's side, a style distinctly different than when one of the more experienced Sharks defensemen were placed in the same situation.

However, as McLellan mentioned, San Jose got what they could reasonably expect out of their young defenseman tonight. Braun's errors were glaring, but this does not mean he isn't ready to compete for a lower pairing slot and do so effectively-- his outlet pass to Dany Heatley in the first period that sprung the sniper on a two on one, as well as his ability to get his shots through from the point, all indicate a player that has the potential to deliver tangible results for the Sharks.

As we mentioned during the game, it's going to up and down on a shift by shift basis for Braun (as well as Joslin) this year as they get further acclimated to the speed of the NHL game. It's something veteran defenseman Dan Boyle saw as a learning experience for the young trio as he spoke about the advice he would give to them following tonight.

"I probably won't say anything tonight, just talk to them all tomorrow. I'm more of a as it happens type of guy," said Boyle. "I'll say a few things they can work on. The biggest thing is just to try to keep them calm and tell them to play their game."

But aside from avoiding the rush to lay blame on the Sharks young players, it's safe to say tonight's performance is one that sets up what could be a pivotal road trip to start December. The Sharks head to Ottawa, Montreal, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Buffalo for the next five tilts-- all big games against tough opponents, and one that will test the Sharks depleted defensive core even more.

The positives are that the Western Conference is as tight as ever-- the Sharks only lie a few points out of a playoff seed, and have sixty games to get there.

The negatives are that they're in a position that requires them to fight through injuries and still accrue points to keep up with the rest of the pack. And although the young defenseman aren't to blame for the loss entirely, it's going to be quite the uphill battle in the next ten days for San Jose to get the team-wide performances they need.

With consistency still an issue, tonight didn't answer any questions on what Sharks team we can expect to see in December.

This road trip however, just might.

"We have to get our legs back underneath us, we've got a long flight. I think we have to recognize and understand that there has been some Western Conference teams that have made this trip already and haven't had a lot of success," McLellan said. "We have to prepare ourselves for tough games in tough buildings. We're going to have to polish our game up on the trip, get some guys healthy, and find a few extra players who are healthy already wearing the uniform."

 

Go Sharks.

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