Despite one of their best performances of the season, the Sharks fell on the scoreboard and in the standings Tuesday night.
At this point, there isn't much of a choice other than to take what we can get from the 2013 San Jose Sharks. Result aside, we got a hell of a lot more on Tuesday night than we've seen in weeks from this team. Built around a second period performance that was likely their best single-period showing of the season, the Sharks dictated play against a dominant Blues team but skated off the ice without a point to show for it.
San Jose outshot St. Louis 38-15 at even-strength and 41-21 overall but somehow managed to lose 4-2 in a game that harkened back to simpler times when this type of effort from the Sharks was routine rather than rare. With Brent Burns reinserted into the lineup as a forward, the coaching staff finally had the option to ice three competent scoring lines for the first time all season and they didn't disappoint, owning the neutral zone for the second and third periods and wearing down the Blues territorially in waves.
Unfortunately, the domination didn't begin in earnest until the Sharks were already trailing in this game. An errant pass in the neutral zone by Dan Boyle during the first period spearheaded a St. Louis 2-on-1 the other way that Chris Stewart promptly cashed in for his tenth goal of the season. With the Sharks pressing and creating chances throughout the beginning of the second period, a shift transpired ten minutes in that encapsulated Ryane Clowe's Seasone Frome Helle. Clowe sent the rebound of a Pavelski shot off the post and watched in horror as David Perron beat Brad Stuart to the resultant loose puck, setting up an attack that ended with Patrik Berglund sending a pass over a prone Douglas Murray that Perron deflected past Antti Niemi with his skate.
Although Burns brought the Sharks back to within striking distance a minute later, the Blues re-established their multi-goal lead in the dying seconds of the middle frame, with Niemi misplaying a weak Barret Jackman backhander from the outside right into the prime scoring area for Chris Porter to convert for the eventual game-winning goal.
A loss is a loss is a loss and the Sharks need wins. At the same time, after a week of listless efforts, it was heartening to see San Jose turn in what was arguably their best overall performance of the season, especially when taking into consideration the quality of opponent. More often than not, this caliber of effort will result in a win; the question that lingers is how reproducible this is for a team that's had its share of struggles putting everything together on a consistent basis all year long.
- To emphasize how dominant the Sharks were in that second period, they generated nine shot attempts on a single minute-long shift. Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Burns were incredible in this game.
- Still, if it means excising Douglas Murray from the lineup, the Sharks should absolutely move Burns back to defense when the coaching staff judges him sufficiently healed. Niemi should have prevented the Porter goal from ever happening but Murray's patently awful gap control is what allowed Jackman to gain the zone in the first place. Martin Havlat is supposedly expected to return to the lineup for the home-and-home against Los Angeles and could potentially take Burns' spot.
- James Sheppard had a monstrous shift on the forecheck in this game but wasn't very noticeable outside of it, although much of that had to do with his minutes being severely curtailed in the third period. Still, probably the most complete effort the Sharks have received out of their top three lines this season.
- The fourth line still sucks, though. McLellan wisely gave them a bit more shelter than he has in the past week (there were far fewer defensive-zone faceoffs to go around tonight given the Sharks' territorial play) but they weren't able to do a whole lot with it.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Jake Allen
2nd Star: Brent Burns
3rd Star: Dan Boyle
Again, if this is the brand of hockey the Sharks plan on playing the rest of the way, they'll make the playoffs. As disappointing an effort as this is, it's one of those beacons of hope that the team might not be on as steep a decline as it appears. They've fooled us with this before a few times this year already, though, so forgive me if I'm skeptical that they'll keep up this pace. They need at least a split against the Kings this weekend to stay competitive in the playoff hunt and a repeat of tonight's performance (along with somewhat better goaltending from Niemi) will go a long way towards achieving that. Go Sharks.