With the Sharks on their heels at the end of the first period this morning, Todd McLellan once again shuffled his deck of forwards, dealing combinations of Martin Havlat, Joe Thornton and Brent Burns along with Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski. Once again, they came up empty as the Sharks' league-worst offense was shut out for the third time in thirty games, dropping a 2-0 decision to the Minnesota Wild that was hardly worth waking up for.
Thankfully, McLellan didn't suffer a concussion this time around as the Sharks returned to Minnesota for the first time since that unfortunate incident last February. Just about everything else went wrong for San Jose, however. Andrew Desjardins, literally the last Sharks forward you would want taking a penalty shot, was awarded one early in the first period and predictably failed to capitalize. Logan Couture missed a wide-open net after being set up perfectly by Martin Havlat. Brent Burns' breakaway on a power play in the third period was countered by Niklas Backstrom.
But this game was about more than unfavorable bounces as the Sharks were handily outplayed through two periods by a Wild team that, frankly, isn't all that good. San Jose had a real chance to gain separation from the pack in the Western Conference over their past two contests but gave up three points to mediocre clubs in Edmonton and Minnesota in the process. The team's usually reliable penalty kill failed them in this one, first allowing a pass through the box from Mikko Koivu to Zach Parise that the former Devil ripped past Antti Niemi a second after James Sheppard's interference minor expired. Another cross-ice pass, this time from Ryan Suter to Jared Spurgeon at the point, victimized the Sharks' shorthanded unit just over a minute into the third period.
As they did in Anaheim on Monday night, the Sharks dominated Minnesota in the final frame but that isn't remotely surprising or an encouraging sign. Every team in the NHL sits on third period leads, particularly ones consisting of multiple goals. When this was still a hockey game, the Sharks simply didn't get enough offense from their second and third lines to defeat a beatable Minnesota club. Until this team is able to dictate play on a consistent basis while the score is meaningfully close, they aren't going to win.
Torrey Mitchell and Tommy Wingels dropped the gloves in the second period, presumably taking their mutual frustration over being saddled with Michal Handzus as a center over the past two seasons out on each other.
- This wasn't a particularly entertaining game but watching Douglas Murray and Brad Stuart attempt to execute a breakout always makes for some solid laughs. At even-strength, that pairing started 9 shifts in the offensive zone and just 2 in their own end, making them by far the most sheltered of the Sharks' 3 pairings. If the coaching staff is cognizant enough to recognize their limitations as a pairing, why are they still together?
- Martin Havlat had perhaps his best game of the season since the first week of 2013. He was making deft plays at the opposing blueline, keeping the cycle alive and setting up chances in transition. As long as we're line juggling, I wonder how a trio of Havlat, Marleau and Burns would fare. That might violate a few speed limits.
- T.J. Galiardi played 2:04 shorthanded in this game and earned every second of it. Small sample size caveat and all that but he's been extremely impressive on the penalty kill this season when given the chance to contribute. Burish's reputation as an elite PKer seems like a lot of hot air but Galiardi could be legitimately good at this.
- Their underlying numbers on the season look quite terrible but the Wild might have something going if they keep their current line combinations together. Three pairs of really good play-drivers in Koivu/Parise, Cullen/Bouchard and Brodziak/Clutterbuck along with a scoring winger on each line isn't a bad recipe.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Niklas Backstrom
2nd Star: Ryan Suter
3rd Star: Martin Havlat