Nick Bjugstad scored twice in regulation and added the shootout winner as the Panthers topped the Sharks 3-2 to sweep their season series. But more pressing than their loss of a skills competition are legitimate questions as to where San Jose's even-strength offense has gone.
While the Sharks' defensive play has taken its share of (well-deserved) criticism of late, that may have overshadowed even more significant concerns on offense as San Jose entered tonight's game with the fifth-worst even-strength goal scoring rate in the league. They struggled to score at evens through the first, road-heavy quarter of their season and after a game in which neither of their two goals, and very few scoring chances, came while the teams were skating five aside there's little reason to expect an impending improvement.
Fifteen of the Sharks' twenty-four shots on goal at even-strength in this game came from defensemen, only one of which (Marc-Edouard Vlasic nearly beating Roberto Luongo on his own rebound), constituted a legitimate scoring chance. San Jose had zone time galore, particularly after surrendering a goal on the first shot of the night and playing from behind for the first period and change, but the bulk of their offense outside of a crisp, productive power play came from the outside. Give the Panthers credit as their wingers collapsed down low in the defensive zone and took away the slot but the Sharks haven't been the offensive powerhouse at five-on-five this season that they were last year and that continued tonight.
Eventually even the zone time evaporated as the Panthers took advantage of three power plays to generate ten third period shots while the Sharks responded with one of their own at even-strength, another on a failed Patrick Marleau penalty shot and then, finally, mercifully, a tying goal by Marleau with Antti Niemi pulled for the extra attacker that salvaged a point. If you were expecting a meteoric rise in performance as the Sharks returned to their home ice after spending 16 of the first 21 games on the road, you didn't really get it tonight. There's still a good team buried underneath all of this but, with the offense sputtering and the blueline still underwhelming, it might take drastic changes in how they're using their players to uncover it.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Nick Bjugstad
2nd Star: Patrick Marleau
3rd Star: Aleksander Barkov