While the Sharks' 3-2 overtime loss to the Avalanche technically came as a result of a Matt Duchene goal with three-tenths of a second on the clock, the difference between San Jose and Colorado on the ice tonight felt decidedly more severe. The Sharks were outshot 37-26 and outchanced 15-11 at even-strength by an Avs team that, even with Ryan O'Reilly in the lineup, doesn't exactly count itself among the league's elite.
Excuses abound, as always, and some of them are at least slightly legitimate. San Jose was playing the second half of a back-to-back for the second time in less than a week against a rested Avalanche squad. Martin Havlat and Brent Burns are still injured. And if things like momentum and energy matter, the club coming off a 6-2 trouncing of the first-place team in hockey surely brought more of it into this contest than the one that blew a two-goal third period lead just over 24 hours prior.
But the excuses have worn thin. Despite the gut-wrenching finish, this game wasn't determined by puck luck or variance. The better team undoubtedly won, and probably deserved to do so in regulation. A blazing fast Colorado club used their speed to exploit ineptly tentative coverage by a Sharks defense that looked as hapless as it did immobile for much of the night. The Sharks were rarely able to compile successive shifts of sustained possession or even recover the puck in the neutral zone for long enough to map an attack in transition.
Back-to-back or no, this was an inexcusably flat effort by San Jose, particularly during a third period in which they were unable to control play despite trailing. Logan Couture, easily the Sharks' best player this weekend, managed to tie the game after following up his own forecheck by setting up in the slot and receiving a stolen puck from Joe Thornton, but all it signified was another success in the Sharks' endeavor to hoard Bettman points.
This isn't an issue with effort or confidence or leadership or anything else you can pull out of the trough of buzzwords kept handy by every media commentator to explain stretches of play like this. The Sharks just don't have the depth to compete on a nightly basis and the issues of their shallow roster are further exacerbated by sometimes unjustifiable lineup decisions. Pairing Douglas Murray and Brad Stuart never made a lick of sense and predictably blew up in the coaching staff's face on Ryan O'Reilly's second period goal, created courtesy Murray yielding a gap the size of a Mack Truck to Aaron Palushaj at the defensive blueline.
But it's impossible to blame the coaching staff for the listless fourth line they were forced to ice, or for the fact that Tim Kennedy started this game on the second line or for needing to put Tommy Wingels with Couture and Thornton just to be able to stock the third line with some modicum of talent. This team simply wasn't built to have the requisite scoring depth to keep pace even with a fully healthy lineup, let alone when dealing with injuries. Until the Sharks acquire that, it's going to be difficult to expect them to win a playoff series and they'll be pissing away perhaps the last truly great season by Thornton and Marleau in the process.
- Speaking of Marleau, congratulations are in order for his 400th career goal (originally credited to Dan Boyle, who wasn't even on the ice at the time). But according to idiots everywhere he'd surely have toppled all of Gretzky's records by now if he ever actually tried. In all seriousness, an excellent accomplishment by an excellent player.
- Even more impressive than his goal was a sequence in overtime when Marleau blocked an Erik Johnson point shot, beat Johnson to the resultant loose puck, sped down the right wing, lost his balance attempting to curl back but still managed to work the puck to Marc-Edouard Vlasic in front of the net for a scoring chance while laying flat on the ice.
- I'm not pinning the loss on him but why the hell was Adam Burish sent out onto the ice with twelve seconds remaining in overtime?
- Tim Kennedy had a noticeably impressive game, reading the play perfectly early in the first period to cut in on a breakaway (credit Brad Stuart for a great off-the-boards pass, too) only to be foiled by Varlamov and directing the puck into the offensive zone to initiate Couture's tying goal in the third.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Matt Duchene
2nd Star: Logan Couture
3rd Star: Gabriel Landeskog
It doesn't get any easier from here. The Sharks play the Kings, arguably the league's best team regardless of what Chicago has accomplished this season, twice this week with a stop in St. Louis prior to that. The fact that San Jose is coming off a week of unmitigated uninspired play doesn't provide much of a positive outlook for their upcoming slate. Despite the doldrums, parts of their game appear to be falling into place; the top six (especially Marleau and Couture) have been consistently impressive, the power play is at least generating chances if not goals and despite the hiccup against the Blues, Niemi continues to dominate. It's a lack of mobility on the blue line and a lack of depth up front that are ailing this team. The former can be fixed with optimized lineup decisions but the answer to the latter question has to come from outside the organization. Go Sharks.