The box score reads that the Sharks lost this game courtesy a three-minute span of awfulness at the beginning of the third period that saw three quick goals by the Flyers transform a 2-1 San Jose lead into a 4-2 Philadelphia edge. But a listless second period in which the Sharks notched just two shots on goal at even-strength, rarely made it out of their own zone and even less frequently were in a position to make a play at the offensive blueline beyond a dump-in and line-change was just as much a factor in the team's worst performance on home ice in years.
There are plenty of plausible excuses for what transpired at the Tank tonight, ranging from injuries to the distraction of the upcoming three-week Olympic break. But at the end of the day, the Sharks were thoroughly outplayed and lost 5-2 in their own building to a bad Eastern Conference team. Ultimately, there isn't much of an excuse for that. Despite two pretty goals by Matt Nieto in the first period, signs that the Sharks would be less-than-stingy in the neutral zone and their own end were already starting to manifest and built into full-on domination by the Flyers in the middle frame. For lengthy stretches of the second period, the Sharks were seemingly incapable of stringing together complete passes in an effort to exit the defensive zone with the puck.
What happened next was almost too predictable. A minute into the third, a Matt Read wrist shot from the faceoff dot to the right of Antti Niemi beat the Sharks goaltender high and effectively opened the floodgates. Michael Raffl followed it up by batting home a Erik Gustafsson rebound to provide Philadelphia with the go-ahead goal. Claude Giroux added some insurance by picking up an ugly Matt Irwin turnover in the neutral zone, skating to the top of the left circle and sneaking the puck between Niemi's glove and left pad, chasing him from the net.
The good news for the Sharks is that it's just one game, even if it is the continuation of a concerning trend of home losses to the dregs of the East, previous iterations of which occurred against the Sabres and Islanders. They haven't been quite this bad before and it's unlikely they'll be quite this bad again. But there are lessons to be learned here for the players and the coaching staff about how sitting on a one-goal lead for two full periods isn't a sound strategy, about how forcing plays up the middle of the ice when the opposition is bottling up the neutral zone is a good way to spend a lot of time defending and about how maybe veteran leadership isn't as important as puck-moving ability on the blueline. Not that playing Matt Tennyson over Scott Hannan or Brad Stuart would have changed anything tonight but after watching the Sharks fail to execute a clean breakout for the entirety of the second period, I can't see how he would have hurt. Regardless, the problems for San Jose in this game ran deeper than lineup decisions and they're problems the Sharks are going to have to fix if they hope to collect four more points prior to the break.
- Niemi is going to get blamed for this loss, partially because he deserves some legitimate criticism for the Read and Giroux goals but mostly because it's convenient. I'm not on board with it, mainly because pinning this on Niemi absolves a whole lot of Sharks for a putrid performance here.
- I'm also not saying Niemi is blameless but you can start with one of the worst games of what's been a terrible month-and-a-half for Matt Irwin and Dan Boyle and work your way on up the lineup. The bottom six, especially after Marty Havlat was moved to the second line with Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski, stunk out loud and the penalty kill let the Sharks down in the first period.
- San Jose has two good defensemen right now, and that's a problem. At least the bottom six will get a makeover as injured forwards become healthier. Getting Jason Demers back will help the blueline, sure, but as long as Irwin and Boyle continue on their current trajectory, it's hard to see the Sharks surviving their inevitable first round series against L.A.'s forecheck. A top-four defenseman should be on Doug Wilson's wish list as the trade deadline approaches.
- Bracken Kearns' story is inspiring and his three-goals-in-three-games stretch after being recalled was one of the feel-good moments of the year. But he's been terrible for three weeks now yet has inexplicably worked his way above Andrew Desjardins on the depth chart. I don't fully understand what the coaching staff sees here. He's awful on the draw (his offensive-zone loss was turned the other way by the Flyers for the Read goal), has very little in the way of hockey sense and simply isn't a NHL player. He shouldn't be slotted into a top-nine role with Havlat healthy and he certainly shouldn't be getting four more minutes of ice time than Desjardins. Not saying that would have changed the course of the game but it just doesn't make much sense to me.
- Obviously the Flyers deserve a lot of credit for this too. Sean Couturier in particular appeared to have a terrific game, both at even-strength and in particular on the penalty kill. I couldn't name three forwards in the league definitively better than Couturier at killing penalties and the kid's still only 21. If his offensive game continues to develop he could be another Patrice Bergeron.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Claude Giroux
2nd Star: Sean Couturier
3rd Star: Matt Nieto