Woo Rewind - Sharks free fall, James Sheppard returns and Mike Connolly is traded

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski spiking the puck into pieces at the DCU Center on Feb. 24 was the lone highlight for the Worcester Sharks. Photo courtesy of Steve Lanava of www.telegram.com

Looking to move up the standings in the AHL Eastern Conference Playoff Race, the Worcester Sharks suffered three critical losses to finish the month of February with a record of 4-8-0-0.

Overall, the Sharks are now 24-20-4-6 with 58 points, and are in ninth place of the AHL Eastern Conference Playoff standings, two points behind the eighth place Albany Devils and three points behind the seventh place Manchester Monarchs.

On Friday night {Feb. 24}, the Sharks hosted the Providence Bruins in their eighth meeting of the season, and were defeated 5-3 in front of a DCU Center record 10,170 fans. With the loss, the Sharks were leapfrogged by the Bruins in the standings for the 8th and final playoff spot in the AHL Eastern Conference.

John McCarthy, Nathan Moon and Brandon Mashinter scored for the Sharks while goalie Alex Stalock {1-1-0, 2.51 goals against average, .909 save percentage} stopped 35-of-39 shots in his first game at the DCU Center since Feb. 4, 2011. Tim Kennedy chipped in with two assists and was the only Sharks player to have a multi-point game.

Dubbed "Gronk Spike Night," New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski spiked a ceremonial puck into pieces at center ice prior to the start of the game. Back on Nov. 18, 2011, Gronkowski was fined $7,500 by the NFL for an "unsportsmanlike spike" following a touchdown in a game against the New York Jets. The Sharks offered to pay Gronkowski's fine if he would spike a puck at a Sharks game.

McCarthy gave the Sharks an early 1-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season at 2:44 of the first period. From center ice, McCarthy sent a pass over to the right side that banked off the wall at the blue line of the Bruins zone. The puck came back down low on the right side where McCarthy, who pursued the puck, picked up the puck behind the Bruins defender, and roofed the puck past Bruins goalie Michael Hutchinson on the blocker side from point blank range for the goal. James Livingston and Matt Pelech were credited with the assists on the goal.

Fireworks erupted when Sharks forward Jimmy Bonneau dropped the gloves with Bruins forward Bobby Robbins at 7:15 in a quick scrap behind Hutchinson's net after Sharks forward Brodie Reid barreled over Hutchinson on a 2-on-1 rush with linemate Marek Viedensky. Despite only lasting a few seconds, the fight was recognized as Bonneau's 18th of the season.

Bruins defenseman Max Sauve tied the game at 1-1 with a power play goal, his fourth goal of the season, at 7:59. With Reid in the penalty box for goaltender interference, Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski held the puck at the top of the left point inside the Sharks zone. Bartkowski sent the puck down to left corner to Bruins forward Jamie Arniel, who quickly sent a pass across the crease to Sauve, who was all alone on the right side. Stalock came out of his net to stop the initial shot but Sauve was able to get the rebound and poked the puck past Stalock off the inside of the post for the goal.

Moon put the Sharks up 2-1 with a power play goal, his eighth goal of the season, at 16:46. With Bruins defensemen Steven Kampfer and Kevan Miller in the penalty box for interference and cross-checking respectively {penalties were called 22 seconds apart}, Kennedy collected a pass from Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin in the right corner. Kennedy skated towards Hutchinson on the right side before centering the puck in front to linemate Jack Combs, whose was denied by Hutchinson. Moon, who was positioned on the left side of the goalie crease, corralled the loose puck and roofed the puck over the outstretched glove of Hutchinson for the power play score.

Fireworks reappeared at 4:55 of the second period as Pelech dropped the gloves with Bruins defenseman Nathan McIver after Pelech delivered a heavy hit to Arniel on the near side wall at center ice. The 20 second fight saw more tussle than shots landed and was Pelech's 11th fight of the season.

Mashinter extended the Sharks lead to 3-1 with his 11th goal of the season at 13:58. With the puck behind Hutchinson's net, Kampfer tried to send an outlet pass along the left wall. However, Kennedy intercepted the puck, and centered the puck in front to Mashinter, who fired a quick shot on net from inside the left slot that beat Hutchinson through the pads for the goal.

At 16:16, Bruins forward Calle Ridderwall ran into Stalock, who had already been run into three times in the game. A scrum up ensued, and Pelech dropped the gloves with Miller in a brief scrap that ended when Pelech dropped Miller with a solid right hand.

Despite carrying a two goal lead into the third period, the Sharks were unable to protect the lead as they allowed four unanswered goals in the final frame, three of which occurred in a 6:54 span.

Bruins forward Kirk MacDonald cut the Sharks lead to 3-2 with his third goal of the season at 6:30. Controlling the face-off inside the Sharks zone, Arniel fired a shot on net from just inside the right face-off circle that Stalock stopped with his shoulder. MacDonald corralled the loose puck on the left side and slid a backhander past a lunging Stalock for the goal.

Arniel tied the game at 9:15 with his sixth goal of the season. With the puck behind the Sharks net, Bruins forward Lane MacDermid centered the puck in front to Arniel, who faked a shot from the top of the slot, and somehow found room to shoot the puck past two diving Sharks defenders and a diving Stalock on the right side for the tying goal.

Bruins forward Kyle MacKinnon gave the Bruins a 4-3 lead with his eighth goal of the season at 13:24. Winning a face-off inside the Sharks zone, Ridderwall skated out to the top of the center point of the Sharks zone and sent the puck up to Bartkowski at the top of the left point. Bartkowski delayed before firing a wrist shot on net that MacKinnon deflected in front for the go-ahead goal.

With Stalock pulled for the extra attacker, the Sharks applied pressure inside the Bruins zone but couldn't get the puck past Hutchinson. Bruins forward Jamie Tardif was sprung free for a breakaway and added an empty net goal, his 15th goal of the season, at 19:41 to seal the 5-3 win.

For the game, the Sharks outshot the Bruins 45-40, were 1-for-2 with the man advantage and 3-for-4 on the penalty kill... Ben Guite {inj}, Frazer McLaren {inj}, Curt Gogol {inj}, Cam MacIntyre {inj}, Ryan Del Monte {scr}, Brian O'Hanley {scr} and Tyson Sexsmith {scr} did not dress for the Sharks... Del Monte was not available for this game or the Syracuse game due to the passing of his grandmother... With the three fights, the Sharks now have an AHL leading 92... Tony Lucia returned to the Sharks lineup to make his first appearance of 2012 after missing 21 games due to recurring concussion issues... Ian O'Connor was released from his PTO and returned to the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL... Mashinter's goal was his 47th for the Sharks, tying him with T.J. Trevelyan for fourth on the Sharks' all-time list {courtesy of Bill Ballou}... The loss was the 500th in coach Roy Sommer's AHL career and only Hershey's Frank Mathers has lost more, with 512 {courtesy of Bill Ballou}.

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Photo courtesy of John Ferrarone of www.telegram.com

Dubbed "Massachusetts Special Olympics Night" on Saturday night {Feb. 25}, the Sharks hosted the Portland Pirates in their eighth meeting of the season and were defeated 5-1. Moon had the lone goal for the Sharks while goalie Harri Sateri {11-10-0, 2.75 goals against average, .904 save percentage} stopped 18-of-21 shots in 24:02 of action before being pulled for Tyson Sexsmith {10-10-2-6, 2.18 goals against average, .922 save percentage}, who stopped 9-of-11 shots.

Pirates forward Mathieu Beaudoin gave the Pirates an early 1-0 lead with his fifth goal of the season just 1:43 into the game. Rushing into the Sharks zone along the right side, Pirates forward Andy Miele fired a shot on net from inside the right face-off circle that Sateri stopped with the blocker. The puck came to a stop on the left side of the goalie crease where Beaudoin was able to backhand the puck into the net after Sharks defenseman Taylor Doherty failed to corral the puck.

Fireworks exploded at 7:22 as Pelech dropped the gloves with Pirates defenseman Mark Louis in a near minute scrap that saw both combatants land several hard shots. The fight was Pelech's 13th of the season and Louis' first professional fight.

Pirates forward Ryan Duncan extended the lead to 2-0 with a power play goal, his 11th goal of the season, at 11:24. With Sharks defenseman Sena Acolatse in the penalty box for cross-checking and the puck inside the Sharks zone, Pirates defenseman Nathan Oystrick sent a cross zone pass from the right half wall to Miele, who was positioned in the left face-off circle. Miele passed the puck over to Duncan, who fired a quick shot on net from in the slot that beat Sateri over the shoulder for the power play goal.

Pirates forward Evan Bloodoff extended the lead to 3-0 with his third goal of the season at 4:02 of the second period. Skating into the Pirates zone on the left side, Sharks forward Mike Connolly fired a shot on net that missed the net and rimmed all the around the rink. Sateri came out of his net to play the puck in the trapezoid but had the puck taken away from by Pirates forward Jordan Szwarz, who centered the puck in front for Bloodoff, who shot the puck into the empty net for the goal. Sateri was pulled for the first time this season after the Bloodoff goal.

Moon got the Sharks on the scoreboard with his ninth goal of the season at 9:38. Holding the puck at the top of the left point of the Pirates zone, Connolly sent a cross zone pass down to Reid, who fired a quick shot on net from on top of the right face-off circle that Moon, who was cutting to the front of the net, deflected in front past Pirates goalie Marc Cheverie for the goal.

Szwarz put a dagger in the Sharks' comeback attempt with his sixth goal of the season at 16:21. Rushing into the Sharks zone down the left side, Szwarz attempted to center the puck in front but his pass was broken up by Irwin. However, the puck deflected off of Irwin and came back to Szwarz, who quickly stuffed the puck into the net for the goal before Sexsmith could react.

Duncan extended the lead to 5-1 with his second goal of the game at 1:51 of the third period. Winning a battle for the puck in the right corner of the Sharks zone, Miele got the puck out to Beaudoin on top of the right face-off circle. Beaudoin quickly sent a backhand pass out to Duncan, who corralled the puck and fired a wrist shot on net from the top of the slot that beat Sexsmith on the glove side for the goal.

Moon dropped the gloves with Pirates forward {and former Kingston Frontenacs junior hockey teammate} Ethan Werek at 13:14 in a near 40 second scrap at center ice. The fight was the 10th of the season for Moon, who got a nice ovation from DCU Center crowd.

For the game, the Sharks outshot the Pirates 35-32, were 0-for-3 with the man advantage and 2-for-3 on the penalty kill... Guite {inj}, McLaren {inj}, Gogol {inj}, MacIntyre {inj}, Andrew Murray {inj}, Combs {scr} and Stalock {scr} did not dress for the Sharks... With the two fights, the Sharks now have an AHL leading 94.

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Photo courtesy of www.facebook.com/ctwhale

On Tuesday morning {Feb. 28}, the Sharks traveled to the XL Center in Hartford, CT, to play the hosting Connecticut Whale in their fourth and final meeting of the season, and were defeated 2-1 in a shootout. Mashinter had the lone Sharks goal in regulation and the lone Sharks shootout goal while Sexsmith stopped 21-of-22 shots.

In addition, James Sheppard, who was loaned from San Jose on a conditioning assignment on Feb. 27, was in the lineup for the Sharks. It was Sheppard's first career AHL game and his first professional hockey game since a horrific ATV accident that fractured his left patella back on Sept. 7, 2010 when he was a member of the Minnesota Wild.

Mashinter gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead with his 12th goal of the season at 9:15 of the first period just as the slashing penalty to Whale forward Jonathan Audy-Marchessault expired. With the puck inside the Whale zone, Sharks captain Mike Moore fired a shot on net from just on top of the right face-off circle that Whale goalie Chad Johnson stopped. Mashinter, who was positioned right on top of the goalie crease, corralled the loose puck and slid the puck past the goal line for the goal. Moon was credited with the secondary assist.

Whale forward Mats Zuccarello tied the game at 19:10 with his 12th goal of the season. After some perimeter passing inside the Sharks zone, Whale forward Kris Newbury held the puck just inside the right face-off circle along the right wall, and centered the puck in front to Zuccarello, who was all alone, and Zuccarello tipped the puck through the pads of Sexsmith for the goal.

In the second period, the Sharks had to weather a storm from the Whale but Sexsmith stood on his head and kept the Whale at bay. Not to be outdone by Sexsmith, Johnson stood tall for the Whale and shut the door on the Sharks' two 5-on-3 power play advantages.

After a scoreless third period and overtime, the teams headed to a shootout where the Whale elected to go first and Zuccarello scored through the pads of Sexsmith; Reid was stopped by Johnson; Casey Wellman had the puck poke checked away by Sexsmith; Sheppard was stopped by Johnson; Brendan Bell missed wide; Combs missed wide; Audy-Marchessault missed the net on a spin-o-rama; Mashinter scored blocker side on Johnson; Newbury scored glove side on Sexsmith on a backhander; Lucia missed the net to give the Whale a 2-1 victory.

For the game, the Sharks outshot the Whale 34-23, were 0-for-6 with the man advantage and 1-for-1 on the penalty kill... Guite {inj}, Murray {inj}, McLaren {inj}, Gogol {inj}, MacIntyre {inj}, O'Hanley {scr} and Sateri {scr} did not dress for the Sharks... Sheppard wore #15, which will also be his San Jose number should he be recalled... With the assist, Moon extended his point streak to four games {2-2-4}... The Sharks finished 1-1-0-2 in the season series against the Whale... The Sharks are 13th in the AHL on the power play at 17.9%, seventh on the penalty kill at 84.1% and second in penalty minutes at 21.1 per game.

MIKE CONNOLLY TRADED

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Photo courtesy of www.telegram.com

In the closing hour of the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 27, San Jose Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson announced the San Jose Sharks had acquired Daniel Winnik, T.J. Galiardi and a 7th round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Jamie McGinn, Connolly and Michael Sgarbossa.

Tied with McCarthy for second in team scoring, Connolly registered 30 points on 10 goals and 20 assists in 40 games played, and was one of the best offensive players on team that has had trouble scoring goals all season. In addition, Connolly became the first Worcester Sharks player to be involved in a trade at the trade deadline since the Worcester Sharks were established in 2006.

Sgarbossa currently plays for the Sudbury Wolves in the Ontario Hockey League {OHL} and is the second leading scorer in the league with 84 points on 41 goals and 43 assists through 57 games played. In addition, Sgarbossa is currently on a 16-game point streak.

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