The lionizing of the Sharks' defense as vastly improved this season was always a bit overstated. Antti Niemi played out of his mind for the entire first half of 2013, compiling Hasek-like numbers and, on many a night since late January, representing the only reason the Sharks won hockey games. While Niemi has always been a much better goaltender in San Jose than most are willing to give him credit for, it was blatantly obvious his performance wouldn't last. Shockingly, it hasn't.
Tonight featured more defensive breakdowns by the men in teal than they're usually prone to commit but they've also never at any point this season been the Jacques Lemaire Devils some branded them as. Niemi stopped standing on his head about a week and a half ago and the myth of the Sharks' incredible defense has come unglued, culminating in perhaps the team's worst single-period showing of the season, a phrase I feel like I've typed far too often this year.
Infuriating line changes, missed defensive assignments, piss-poor gap control; it was all on display in the second period tonight as San Jose yielded 3 goals and 13 scoring chances, six of which came on odd-man rushes. When you remove the elite-level goaltending, you aren't left with a tight-checking defensive juggernaut. The Sharks have given up more even-strength shots per minute this season than they did in any of their previous five campaigns. Expecting them to stay in games by keeping things on lockdown defensively was misguided at best. That isn't the team they were built to be.
Of course, a fair question at this point is what team the Sharks were actually built to be. The hope is that the snakebit offense can rebound to compensate for Niemi's regression but it's largely yet to be seen whether things pan out that way, although three goals in regulation tonight is a start. Of course, two of them came with the game effectively over.
It wasn't all doom and gloom as the Sharks outplayed the Ducks for much of the first period and came on strong in the third since Anaheim, like most teams, was content to sit on their three-goal lead. The newly-constructed third line of T.J. Galiardi, Scott Gomez and Tommy Wingels flourished for the most part and returning Jason Demers to the lineup proved to be a good decision. But the middle frame was an almost comically awful effort by a San Jose club that had the chance to beat a rival and keep pace in the playoff race but failed. Oh, and they allowed Emerson Etem to score his first NHL goal too. Fuck this season.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Emerson Etem
2nd Star: Francois Beauchemin
3rd Star: Ryan Getzlaf
If the Sharks lose in Edmonton on Wednesday, they'll have the exact same record as the Oilers. That's right, the Oilers. I think that says it all.