It was bound to happen at some point. Having beaten the Canucks twice already this season, after two wins over Vancouver during the exhibition schedule, which followed a four-game sweep in the clubs' postseason meeting and three straight wins last regular season, the Sharks probably felt pretty confident about the slump-busting potential of tonight's matchup with the Canucks. But nothing lasts forever, as San Jose learned firsthand in its 4-2 loss to Vancouver, the result of one of the Sharks' weaker efforts of the season. Which, of course, came two nights after their 5-4 shootout loss to the worst team in hockey, making this their fourth defeat in a row. It hasn't been a great week in Sharks Territory.
But, unlike in the Buffalo game, it's difficult to pin this loss on a blown call. Vancouver was simply the better team when it mattered, outshooting the Sharks 13-6 at even-strength (20-15 including blocks and misses) when the score was tied or within a goal. They capitalized on turnovers by Tyler Kennedy and Jason Demers, as well as some uncharacteristically shaky goaltending from Antti Niemi, to snap their eleven-game losing streak against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last spring. Despite Todd McLellan running his line combinations through the blender at the start of the second period, that ended up being the Canucks' finest frame as Vancouver chased Niemi a little over five minutes in and outshot the Sharks 17-5 over that twenty-minute span, with backup Alex Stalock admirably holding down the fort and giving San Jose a chance to win.
It was a chance the Sharks never really took, as they generated just three quality looks from the scoring area in the third period, none of which beat Roberto Luongo who was solid when he needed to be after allowing a hilariously fluky game-opening goal. The loss was the Sharks' second in regulation time this season, and only their third regulation loss on home ice of the calendar year. Every team, not to mention every goaltender, goes through stretches like this at some point over the course of an 82-game season but the Sharks would have liked to staunch the bleeding before heading out on their five-game road trip. Courtesy that sloppy, unstructured effort, they won't get to.
- While I wasn't a fan of his parade to the penalty box earlier in the season, there's just no justification for scratching James Sheppard until both Brent Burns and Raffi Torres are healthy. Coming back into the lineup after watching Tuesday's game from the press box, Sheppard was probably the Sharks' best player tonight (which decidedly says all there is to say about their struggles in this game) and earned a spot alongside Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton once the line juggling began.
- Joe Pavelski's line lost their matchup against the Brad Richardson line, plain and simple. San Jose was dinged for two goals against and spent much of its time chasing the puck in the defensive zone when those units went head-to-head. Richardson and Zack Kassian are decent players while Darren Archibald isn't an NHLer. That's a matchup Pavelski feasts on nine times out of ten. Tonight was that tenth time, I suppose.
- Against an organization in Vancouver that loves its zone-matching, Todd McLellan started the Vlasic/Braun pairing in the defensive zone eight times and the offensive zone zero times tonight at even-strength. They were also hard-matched against the Sedin twins as per usual. The fact that Marc-Edouard Vlasic still came out on the positive side of the possession ledger is mindboggling.
- Solid glove save on Jason Garrison through traffic here by Alex Stalock. He was obviously perfect in relief of Niemi but his puck-handling on both special teams units really stood out as an asset.
- Speaking of Niemi, he's had a brutal week and was certainly part of the problem tonight but he still has a .903 SV% over the last seven games, in what's been his worst stretch of the season. To put that into perspective, Jonathan Quick has a .902 SV% in the regular season dating back to the start of 2013. I think Niemi will be okay.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Chris Higgins
2nd Star: Ryan Kesler
3rd Star: Alex Stalock