Though the San Jose Sharks never looked out of Monday night's game against the Western Conference leading Vancouver Canucks, the shot clock told a different tale. The Sharks were out-shot 47 to 35 during the match, a margin that goaltender Antti Niemi couldn't save them from.
And although many applauded the match as a solid game of hockey for both teams, there was a feeling in the locker room not seen recently.
One of anger.
"They [Vancouver] played back to back games and had fifty shots. We just want to cheat at times. They are not afraid to play a sound defensive game. They'll stick to it, and we've got guys that want to do it occasionally. Not all the time though-- that's hard work," Ryane Clowe said. "When you work hard and you win, you feel it after a game. And I guarantee you right now there's guys who don't feel that tired after this game. It's just, just... terrible."
Clowe, obviously distraught, took issue with the effort of his teammates at a time when many seemed to think it wasn't necessarily warranted. It leads us to believe that these issues have been coming to a head for a while, and understandably so-- the third period has not treated San Jose well this season, with points being given away in the final frame to Colorado, Dallas, Nashville, Minnesota, Los Angeles, and now Vancouver. A disconnect between offensive prowess and defensive responsibility isn't a hallmark of great teams-- it's a testament to the inconsistency we've seen for 38 games.
Which obviously hasn't fallen on deaf ears.
Positively, Niemi had 42 saves, and the Sharks were able to put three on the board against Vancouver's back-up netminder Corey Schneider. But San Jose didn't have another goal on their sticks as the seconds wound off the clock.
It was a close affair throughout, with chances abound for each team. Neither squad held a lead exceeding one goal, and usually not for more than a few minutes. However, Vancouver was able to show San Jose why they're the conference leaders-- strong defense and timely offense highlighted by an aggressive and effective forecheck defined the Canucks play throughout the match.
"Making sure we get pucks out the first time and not getting hemmed into our zone. That's what led to most of their goals. We had a couple of chances to get it out and we didn't." Patrick Marleau said. "Guys feel that we could have done the little things better tonight, and if we would have done that, it would have helped us out on the scoreboard. We needed to be more solid defensively."
San Jose could probably have won the game, if they played a little cleaner. Vancouver's first goal was scored on one of those sloppy plays, a result of Thornton mishandling a breakout pass from Demers in the offensive zone. Three Vancouver passes later, Daniel Sedin slid the puck past Niemi for a 1-0 Canucks lead.
The Sharks would have to wait until the second to tie, when Benn Ferriero attempted to wrap the puck around from behind the net. The rebound came to Jason Demers on the half boards, who made a beautiful to Ryane Clowe through the unsuspecting Caucks defense for the tap in.
Sloppy play was again the culprit in the second; Dany Heatley, as has been the case recently, was less than committed. His sloppy back check on the penalty kill led directly to a Vancouver chance in the slot. Edler with the goal to put Vancouver up 2-1.
That goal against seemed to energize the team, as the Sharks put together one of their best stretches of offensive zone time of the game. As a result, Joe Thornton drew one of the games' five penalties to put the Sharks on the powerplay. It would have been nice to see the Sharks' powerplay unit more often, considering how many penalties went uncalled and how well they used the opportunity they had. Patrick Marleau would tie the game on that shift, his 15th of the season from Thornton and Boyle.
Vancouver had a mistake of their own in the second, when Corey Schneider tripped coming cross crease on a Dany Heatley pass from Jamal Mayers. If Schneider simply moves to the side, the puck is right on the logo. Instead, Mayers popped one right in the middle of the net to give the Sharks their first lead of the game.
Just three minutes later, Jannik Hansen was able to get Vancouver even to head into intermission. Niemi overcommitted on the pass, and Douglas Murray went for the body instead of the stick. Credit to Hansen who was able to get his stick on the puck before the hit, and tie the game before the second intermission.
You can say what you want about the penalties that went uncalled for either team during the game, but it was a missed call on a high stick touch that sealed the game for Vancouver. Alex Burrows was able to tip the puck (with his stick above the crossbar), into Niemi. Although the play should have been blown dead when Burrows regained possession, no whistle was heard. Burrows would score, and Vancouver wouldn't relinquish that lead.
Ryane Clowe, who was on the ice for that shift, took partial responsibility. However, in the process, he continued to call out members of his team in what may have been one of the most vocal post game interviews in recent Sharks history.
"First place team in back to back games tied going into the third. It was my fault on that last goal, shouldn't have let him down beneath me high stick or not. Things like that in the defensive zone. It's unacceptable, and I guess we can say we're going to fix it, but when are we going to fix it?"
Clowe, who has taken on the role of assistant captain on the road this season, appears to be taking leadership in the locker room. The same can be said of Logan Couture who, after the Sharks gave up three goals in the third period against Minnesota, also called out his teammates for their lackluster play. It's deserved and refreshing considering their line has carried the Sharks for much of the season.
Coach Todd McLellan's post game press conference wasn't as heated, as he seemed content to let his players in the locker room take the hard line approach in regards to individual play. McLellan softened the blow, pointing out areas where he thought the team played well.
"I actually didn't mind our game. I thought our game after the first got better. I thought we had our share of opportunities in the offensive zone," McLellan said. "We didn't get it by the goaltender and that's the difference right now between the first place team overall in the league in the league and a team that's trying to work real hard to get there."
How do the Sharks get there? Ryane Clowe seemed to be asking that question, rather pointedly, tonight.
"It's bit of both [effort and execution]. It's an individual thing right now, mentally. Do you want to score four goals or do you want to win a game? Are you happy losing with five goals, losing 6-5 maybe, or would rather, like in LA, win 1-0? Are guys happy then? I don't know. Maybe they want to score goals and get points, I dunno, we have to figure it out though. It's frustrating. I'm pissed off, that's for sure."
No one would argue with that last sentence. We can only assume that Clowe's quotes will be shared with his teammates as they prepare for Buffalo on Thursday.