After blowing two-goal leads to Anaheim and Toronto earlier in the week only to escape both contests with close victories, you'd think the Sharks would have realized giving up as many goals as you've scored is not a great hockey strategy. Alas, they did it again tonight in Carolina, taking a 2-0 lead into the first intermission before watching it dissipate over the course of the following forty minutes and result in a 5-3 loss. For the first time this season, San Jose has dropped consecutive games in regulation and this particular defeat was undoubtedly one of their weakest efforts of the campaign.
As much as it's easy to paint this as a game in which the Sharks were guilty of sitting on a lead, I'm not sure that's entirely accurate since it seems to imply they were playing well prior to scoring their second goal. They weren't. In fact, it's hard to recall any extended stretch of this game during which San Jose was the better team. They were outshot 13-10 in the first period, 12-8 in the second and 10-7 in the third. The overall even-strength shot attempts were 65-54 in Carolina's favor and while those numbers might partially be juiced by the Hurricanes trailing for much of the game, Carolina entered tonight fifth-worst in the league in possession and were without Alexander Semin, their best possession player. And yet the Sharks allowed them to dictate the pace of this game and push play through the neutral zone while denying San Jose the time and space to set up offensive opportunities. While the Sharks have certainly made strides in improving team speed, the 'Canes made them look positively sluggish tonight.
I think it's always important to keep these losses in perspective; having two bad games in a row doesn't suddenly make the Sharks a bad team. They still lead the Pacific Division, are tied for the fewest regulation losses in the league and thankfully ceded points in these most recent losses to Eastern Conference clubs and not anyone they'll be jockeying with for playoff seeding at the end of the year. This particular turd, though, is pretty hard to polish. San Jose played poorly for essentially the entire sixty-minute span tonight, fully deserved to lose and then finally did. If it weren't for Cam Ward's porous goaltending, it's unlikely the Sharks would have even built a lead to blow.
- If we're looking for positives, I thought Tom, Dick & Hairy had a solid bounce-back game after an uncharacteristically poor outing against the Penguins. As expected, Kirk Muller had Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk matched up against them for much of the evening but the trio still compiled several shifts in which they attempted to will the Sharks to victory.
- Also how good was Logan Couture? He missed the start of the third period with an injury but returned in time to help create Justin Braun's game-tying goal and, on the whole, went nine for twelve in the dot (with seven of those draws coming in the defensive zone and just one in the Hurricanes' end) and saw the Sharks outshoot the Hurricanes 18-11 (including misses and blocks) when he was on the ice at even-strength. That's despite his line being matched up against Eric Staal's for the majority of their ice time.
- Courtesy Jake Sundstrom, here's that spectacular pad save Alex Stalock made on Nathan Gerbe, who was all over the ice for Carolina in this one:
- Despite the awful result, the defense pairings we saw the Sharks ice tonight should be the ones we see every night. Matt Irwin and Jason Demers should both be in the lineup and either Scott Hannan or Brad Stuart (it doesn't really seem to matter at this point) should not.
- Before being mercifully broken up in the third period, the Havlat/Pavelski/Kennedy third line was a garbage fire yet again. They really haven't played well since the game against St. Louis with that contest and the one against Tampa Bay arguably their only good games together. They don't work as a combination and while I'm not entirely sure what would work in its stead, hopefully that line has been dismantled for good this time.
- Speaking of finding a winger who can work with Joe Pavelski, Matt Nieto scored twice and added three assists in a Worcester rout of Portland while this debacle in Carolina was taking place.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Elias Lindholm
2nd Star: Nathan Gerbe
3rd Star: Jordan Staal