Despite the myriad differences between the Sharks' actual performance over the course of the seven-game winning streak they carried into their afternoon clash with the Dallas Stars and the one with which they opened the season, this run came to an end the same way as the first: in a shootout.
Hopefully the Sharks won't drop their next six games like they did after the Nashville Predators disrupted their initial streak but blowing two separate two-goal leads, as the team did today against the Stars, isn't a great strategy to prevent that. Hemmed in their own end far more frequently than they would have presumably preferred by a new-look Stars team that sold off a good chunk of their forward corps at the trade deadline, the Sharks held 2-0 and 4-2 leads in this game that they couldn't convert into an eighth straight victory.
Entering the second period with a one-goal lead courtesy of a Tommy Wingels goal that resulted from Logan Couture winning a puck battle with Aaron Rome behind the Stars net, the Sharks were roped into a wide-open middle twenty minutes that featured a bevy of scoring chances, the majority of which went to Dallas. Eric Nystrom and rookie Alex Chiasson, who was so good alongside Ray Whitney and Jamie Benn that the trio made Todd McLellan reconsider his matchups for the first time on this homestand, scored for the Stars but a goal off the rush by Brent Burns, a phenomenal backhand shelf tally by T.J. Galiardi and a bizarre marker caught only after a lengthy video review by Marc-Edouard Vlasic gave San Jose a two-goal lead heading into the third.
Somehow, that wouldn't be enough. An aggressive Stars team carried much of the play throughout the final frame with Benn intercepting a pass by Dan Boyle in the neutral zone before Whitney set up Chiasson for his second goal of the night six minutes into the third. Loui Eriksson would tie the game minutes later, depositing the rebound of a Matt Fraser shot from the outside that Antti Niemi probably should have smothered immediately. San Jose generated plenty of late chances, particularly on a scrum in front of the net with a little fewer than nine minutes remaining involving Martin Havlat and Joe Thornton, but a fifth goal--either in regulation or the subsequent shootout--eluded them.
While the Sharks offered up far worse performances than this one during their disconcerting February schedule, this loss was certainly the club's least impressive performance since dumping Douglas Murray and not just because their coins came up tails in the skills competition. This game was underwhelming because it was, to put it rather bluntly, a team failure. Apart from the Joe Pavelski line, now featuring 100% more Raffi Torres, and the defense pairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, none of the Sharks played particularly well, continually committing defensive lapses, turning the puck over in the neutral zone and supplying a largely ineffectual forecheck. Brad Stuart and Jason Demers were liabilities on the blueline, the unit of Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Tommy Wingels were smoked to great enough an extent by Benn and company that McLellan opted to deploy Pavelski's line against them in the third period, and Joe Thornton made a number of poor decisions with the puck.
If there's a positive to take from this game it's that Torres, despite still being the worst, had a phenomenal debut in teal as a force to be reckoned with on the forecheck and in the neutral zone in addition to pocketing two assists. But when a third-liner is arguably your best player, it's usually a sign the team as a whole played a poor game, which was certainly the case in the Sharks' 5-4 loss.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Alex Chiasson
2nd Star: Loui Eriksson
3rd Star: Raffi Torres
As long as we're staying on the bright side, 13 out of a possible 14 points on a homestand is impressive stuff no matter how you slice it. The fact that the Sharks played elite hockey for most of it, and managed to pot four goals in this one despite an unimpressive overall showing, is good news. Also, while this presumably isn't the thought process within the organization, the Sharks are better served finishing 6th or 7th in the West and facing Minnesota, Vancouver or Anaheim than they are battling the Kings in the first round anyway. Not that they should throw games while the playoff race is still in flux but losing points here and there might not be a terrible thing. Then again, if the Sharks play as well as they did over the prior seven games, they have a shot against anyone in the league. If this homestand has proven anything it's that the pieces are clearly here; it's now just a matter of putting together the puzzle.