Despite holding a 3-1 lead in the third period, the Sharks had to settle for one point instead of two in the final game of their road trip as they ultimately fell 4-3 to the Minnesota Wild in a shootout. And while you can blame the officials for waving off a Jason Demers goal in the first period along with a Brent Burns would-be overtime winner, the fact of the matter is that the Sharks simply ran into a buzzsaw of a hockey team.
It's probably still too early in the season to make sweeping declarations but I'm personally sold that this year's iteration of the Minnesota Wild are very much For Real. They've now dominated the Sharks, Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings in possession, controlling over 60% of even-strength shot attempts in their meetings against that trio of teams who were among the five best in the league a season ago. As much as the Sharks had their issues in this game, particularly when it came to a lack of structure in the neutral zone that allowed the Wild to gain the blueline with ease, tonight's loss was more about the Wild being scary good than it was about San Jose playing poorly.
- The puck did appear to cross the goal line before the net came off its moorings on the Burns non-goal in overtime but since the referee deemed that Burns made incidental contact with Darcy Kuemper it proved to be a non-reviewable play. Which is pretty stupid.
- Barclay Goodrow skated 8:39 in his NHL debut and seemed to really elevate the play of the Sharks' fourth line in replacing Tye McGinn. He was an asset along the wall in the offensive zone, prolonging a few possessions that would have probably died on the stick of McGinn or John Scott.
- It was also nice to see Goodrow get a few shifts with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski (including one where he was set up for a grade-A scoring chance), even if that was probably more due to the coaching staff sending a message to Tomas Hertl than it was about rewarding Goodrow.
- Another shotless game for Hertl, his third of the season and ninth overall in which he registered one shot on goal or less. That's frankly unacceptable given how much ice time he gets with Thornton and Pavelski. I'm not sure if it's a conditioning issue but Hertl's skating continues to be a concern as he loses his balance regularly when chasing down loose pucks or attempting to accept passes. I'm at a loss as to how to get Hertl going again but he's obviously a huge part of the Sharks' offense that they could really use.
- Minnesota's increased emphasis on generating controlled offensive zone entries gets most of the press, as players like Zach Parise openly discussed that part of their shift in thinking this offseason, but the way they're able to force defensive shifts while on the attack is just as impressive. Chicago lives off that stuff and there were quite a few sequences tonight involving the Mikko Koivu line that looked like Blackhawks hockey.
- Former Sharks first rounder and Brent Burns trade chip Charlie Coyle is on that Koivu line and, despite Kyle Brodziak's two-goal night, Coyle was probably Minnesota's best forward in this one. He had six shots on goal to go along with a sparkling 78% Corsi as the Couture line really had their hands full with his size and puck skills. That five-year extension he recently inked could turn out to be a steal for Minnesota.
- Congrats to Mirco Mueller on his first NHL goal and on perhaps an even more significant accomplishment, his ninth NHL game. That's because the Sharks will burn a year of Mueller's entry-level contract if he suits up again for them this season. It seems like a foregone conclusion that Mueller won't be going back to junior (McLellan basically said as much last week after making him a healthy scratch against Boston) but I think it's something the Sharks should at least consider. He was burned on both third period Brodziak goals and now has a 45% 5-on-5 Corsi on the season.
- At the very least, if they're going to keep Mueller for the year (and I'm certain they will), the Sharks need to do a better job sheltering him and give him a partner who's less of a wild card than Burns. The tying goal happened because Burns was caught up ice and the 19-year-old, understandably, wasn't able to handle a 2-on-1.
- Antti Niemi robbed Koivu with a two-pad stack early in the game and was extremely good throughout, turning away 43 of 46 Wild shots. It's his third quality start in a row and he's now rocking a .921 SV% on the season. Still too early to tell whether this will actually hold up but it's great news for the Sharks if it does, especially if they're looking to trade the pending UFA at some point to a team whose starter slumps or gets injured.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Charlie Coyle
2nd Star: Kyle Brodziak
3rd Star: Antti Niemi