After a 7-0-0 start to 2013, the Sharks appear to have hit a bit of an early rough patch as they dropped their second straight game (and first of the season in 60 minutes or less) 2-1 in Anaheim.
They've been a painstaking thorn in the Sharks' side for years now so perhaps it isn't particularly surprising the Anaheim Ducks were the first team to hand San Jose a regulation loss in 2013, following a brilliant 7-0-1 start to the season by Team Teal.
For the second straight game, the Sharks' most impressive effort came during a penalty kill in which they were limited to just three players. Michal Handzus was caught on the ice against Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, a shift that predictably ended in disaster with Handzus penalized for hooking Perry in the slot. Joe Pavelski was sent off for deflecting a puck into the stands moments later and the Sharks were down two men against a potent Ducks power play. Somehow, Patrick Marleau, Douglas Murray and Brad Stuart combined to not only thwart Anaheim's attack but outshoot the Ducks on their own extended two-man advantage.
But since "momentum" is almost always just a post-hoc rationalization of one good thing happening after another good thing, the Sharks weren't able to parlay their stellar kill into offensive opportunities of their own and gave up a tiebreaking goal to Sheldon Souray minutes later. A power play rendered powerless without Dan Boyle, a poor outing all around by Joe Thornton, a curiously deployed bottom six that again failed to make an impact and a lack of aggressiveness at the Ducks' blueline all contributed to the Sharks' 2-1 loss.
And the Sharks did deserve to lose this one, which has become a frighteningly recurring theme this season, despite the team's terrific record. As San Jose has steadily declined from blowing out opponents to eking out close, undeserved victories to finally being dealt a legitimate loss, their underlying play at even-strength has remained essentially unchanged. If a trend can really be considered "alarming" this early into a season, it's that the Sharks just have rarely displayed the dominant even-strength possession game that used to be their bread and butter. It's becoming difficult for the Sharks to win games unless their special teams are flawless and as good as those special teams have looked so far this season (the power play not so much over the last few, although regression was a guarantee), that's a ton of pressure to put on them.
- Really wonky bounce on the Saku Koivu goal (let's call it a "Bieksa") but those types of plays had gone the Sharks' (and, specifically, the Vlasic/Stuart pairing's) way all season. If you spend extended stretches hemmed in your own zone, things like that can happen.
- Now that the Sharks are losing games, I assume greater scrutiny will be placed on the fact that only five forwards on the team have scored goals this season. But the bottom six isn't going to be any more productive than it has been when Handzus is leading all forwards (yes, all of them) in even-strength ice time which is a thing that actually happened tonight after actually happening on Saturday. I just don't understand what the coaching staff sees in him and am genuinely interested to find out.
- I love Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brad Stuart as players but they don't work at all as a pairing, despite what a ridiculously inflated on-ice save percentage put their +/- at through six games. Their skillsets aren't at all complementary and the Sharks rarely enjoy success through the neutral zone when they're on the ice. They should really be on separate pairings to optimize their value.
- Speaking of which, this team needs Dan Boyle. Like a lot.
- The Ducks have outshot the Sharks 62-44 so far this season, and that's with San Jose trailing in the third period of both games.
- Sheldon Souray can shoot the puck pretty well, in case you didn't know. Thomas Greiss didn't even have time to react with his glove hand before this blast eluded him:
- Greiss was excellent tonight, although he was "bested" (that's a stupid way of putting it, both goalies were great) at the other end by Viktor Fasth. Fasth dominated the Swedish Elite League and I really think he has a chance to be Jonas Hiller Part Deux for the Ducks. Which is just perfect.
- As far as positives go (because this recap has been a huge downer), Jason Demers and Justin Braun were really strong tonight. Demers in particular had a superhuman shift where he prevented a sure goal then drew a penalty. Unfortunately, he didn't provide quite enough on the power play to replace Boyle but no one can do that.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Viktor Fasth
2nd Star: Francois Beauchemin
3rd Star: Thomas Greiss
Honestly, the Sharks would probably be best off forgetting this game ever happened. They're in for a quick turnaround with the best team in the NHL in town tomorrow night. I don't think anyone will care or even remember this loss to Anaheim if San Jose can muster enough at even strength on Tuesday to down the Blackhawks. Go Sharks.