If the Sharks don't travel to Dallas again in the next few years, it will be too soon.
With Ryane Clowe taking what appeared to be a puck to the face/throat area in the late first period, yet another Sharks player went down with and injury. With Joe Thornton and Marc-Edouard Vlasic also out, it was quickly apparent that this wasn't the same team that shut out Dallas in San Jose last week. Jed Ortmeyer saw time on the power play, Brad Staubitz skated on a line with Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley at times, zone entry was pitiful and the team lacked chemistry throughout the game.
The effort level, however, was familiar.
With a win tonight, the Sharks would have all but locked up the first seed in the Western Conference. Instead, the Blackhawks gain two points in the standings with a game in hand, and the Coyotes remain frighteningly close in the Pacific division race (even though they trail Calgary as I write this).
Just as was the issue in the game in Dallas earlier in the month, taken penalties haunted the Sharks throughout the game. Although the penalty kill effectively squashed a 5 on 3, the parade of Sharks to the box killed any momentum the Sharks appeared to have during the first. This lead to a disastrous second period in which the Sharks allowed three goals.
On the other side of the special teams battle, the Sharks squandered multiple opportunities. The power play will undoubtedly be lacking until Joe Thornton returns, but the Sharks ineptitude in this area tonight was really frustrating. Not only do the Sharks have to count on the aforementioned Jed Ortmeyer to eat up minutes with the extra attacker, but the team looks vastly different without the crisp passes of Joe Thornton. Without him the Sharks look like they're trying too hard, and no where is that more evident than in the play of Patrick Marleau who had his worst game of the year.
The Sharks could not control the puck to save their lives, but Marleau's stick play was egregious at best. A through the legs no look pass on the team's first power play led to a shorthanded goal by Ott, and if that wasn't enough, he tried the same move again in the second period which led to another fantastic opportunity which was thankfully squashed by Nabokov. That was really the only spectacular save by Nabokov during the game, as he allowed some softies and was pulled in favor of Thomas Griess.
This game looked very similar to the games that the Sharks played on the losing streak; they turned the puck over, had trouble in the defensive zone (especially the pairing of Walin and Demers), and were ineffective bringing the puck up through the neutral zone.
This one stings, especially because the Sharks just looked to be turning it around. Oh, and Steve Ott scored his first career hat trick, what the F. The injuries are also demoralizing, and it remains to be seen how long Clowe will be out. You can see that this team misses not only Thornton, but Vlasic as well. Losing another top six guy at this point would be awful. In addition, both Murray and Huskins were shaken up during the game. It gets to the point where you start to worry about the teams' health heading into the playoffs, but hopefully the bumps and bruises are worked out by the time the postseason rolls around.
The one bright spot? Yeah, it's Logan Couture. He's come a long way from the rookie game at Logitech Ice played before the season started, tipping a shot by Dan Boyle by Turco for his first career power play goal. He's really one of the only Sharks who look like they're trying on the ice.
Minnesota is next on the docket, and thats where the Sharks turned their last funk around. Here's hoping that happens again.