Thearon W. Henderson
Power play struggles and the ridiculous play of Mike Smith gave the Sharks their fourth straight loss, this time in a scoreless game settled in the shootout.
Sharks fans got some good news before the game even started. San Jose got their very own shaved Wookiee back in the lineup. That meant the Sharks would finally have the defensive pairings we all hoped they'd roll with at the beginning of the year: Vlasic-Boyle, Stuart-Burns, Demers-Braun. In other lineup news, Todd McLellan decided to swap Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe in the top six - a move that almost paid off.
Once the game got going, it took some time for the Sharks to get their feet under them. The line of Hanzal, Vrbata, and Boedker looked very good early on for Phoenix. The first good opportunity of the game actually came on a stretch pass to Raffi Torres, who took a slapshot right after crossing the blue line. Niemi easily grabbed it, giving Sharks fans a good chance to laugh at Torres.
Giveaways were a huge problem for the Sharks, especially early on. Boyd Gordon nearly took advantage of a bad turnover in the Sharks defensive zone fiteeen minutes in to the period, but just shot it high.
The third line responded with a great shift about a minute later. Burns chipped the puck in to the zone, and Smith was forced to make a bad pass with Tommy Wingels pressuring on the forecheck. Michal Handzus held it in the zone, and the Sharks worked it around the boards well. Eventually, Wingels would find Handzus all alone at the doorstep. Handzus tried some quick stick-handling, but Smith stacked the pads with extra maple syrup.
That shift did seem to mark the point where San Jose took control of this game. In the second period, the second line finally appeared to get going as well, giving San Jose three lines that created some scoring chances. It would be the Thornton line that dominated the middle frame, however. Ryane Clowe started getting chance after chance in the slot.
The Sharks started the third period on a power play, thanks to Michal Handzus drawing a penalty late in the second. Unfortunately, the best chance on the power play came for Phoenix. On a rush, Mikkel Boedker had a beautiful saucer pass across the slot to Radim Vrbata, who was able to knock the puck out of mid-air that hit Niemi low on the pads.
It started a decent push for the Desert Dogs, who came perilously close to scoring twice in the eighth minute of the third. The first came when Boyd Gordon forced a puck toward the net with 12:30 left on the clock. Two Coyotes and four Sharks collapsed to the crease, but Antti Niemi got his glove down on the loose puck as it sat on the goal line. The second strong chance came on the next shift, when Niemi poorly played a puck to the Coyotes, but somehow was bailed out (reminiscent of Evgeni Nabokov).
San Jose would control most of the remaining time in the third, and dominate the overtime period, but Mike Smith continued playing like Mike Smith plays against the Sharks. Nemo was deked out of his skates a couple times on forehand-backhands in the shootout, and that would seal it. Phoenix officially gets the 1-0 victory.
FTF 3 Stars
1st star: Mike Smith
2nd star: Antti Niemi
3rd star: Ryane Clowe
It was actually a decent game overall for the Sharks. The Sharks outshot Phoenix 33-21, and I'll be really interested seeing how the advanced numbers shake out. The third line looked very strong, and the top line created a lot of chances blueline needs to tighten up and do a better job of not giving to the opponents in the defensive zone, but all three pairings looked like they can work well together.
Basically, this whole game recap can be summed up with three words: Fuck Mike Smith. Go Sharks.