At least the Ducks lost.
That's about the only positive to be drawn from a night on which the Sharks saw their six-game winning streak end on home ice at the hands of an injury-hobbled Florida Panthers team icing players even a die-hard fan would be excused for not being aware of (who the fuck is Garrett Wilson?).
San Jose set a franchise record with 29 shots in the third period, thanks to four power play opportunities they weren't able to convert, and outshot Florida 54-24 overall. But it wasn't enough as they beat newly-reacquired goaltender Roberto Luongo just twice en route to a 3-2 loss that denies them the opportunity to head into Thursday's showdown with Anaheim two points ahead of the Ducks in the standings.
The shot total makes this game look more lopsided than it really was; a combination of score effects and a run of four consecutive power plays allowed the Sharks to heavily pad their numbers in the final frame but defensive lapses and porous goaltending in the second period effectively sealed their fate. After taking the lead on a Marty Havlat power play marker, the Sharks surrendered it as Panthers center Brandon Pirri gloved down a James Sheppard shot in his defensive zone then streaked to the other end of the ice before beating Antti Niemi on a shot that the Sharks netminder initially stopped before it fluttered over him and into the net.
Seventeen seconds later, Pirri again spearheaded a rush into the Sharks zone as Andrew Desjardins failed to cover for a pinching Scott Hannan, producing a 2-on-1 the other way that Quinton Howden capitalized on. Scottie Upshall would extend the Panthers' lead to two with fifteen seconds remaining in the second period on an off-speed one-timer that beat Niemi five-hole. San Jose's bottom six forwards made very little in the way of positive contributions at even-strength, then compounded that with mental errors on the first two Florida goals against. Unlike in New York on Sunday, Niemi wasn't sharp enough to bail them out this time around.
For whatever reason, the Sharks can't seem to get up for these games against bottom-tier Eastern teams. As much as the story will be Luongo's night, as it should be, San Jose didn't launch anything close to an all-out offensive onslaught on him until the Panthers were already up by two. At even-strength, shots were 21 apiece at the time of Upshall's goal; that's a really disappointing effort from the Sharks considering how bad the version of the Panthers that took the ice tonight is. Anaheim's loss means the Sharks don't lose ground on the team they're trying to catch, but it sure would have been nice to finally put away an easy opponent and bank two points here.
- Tom Gilbert is a defenseman I'd love to see the Sharks target as a bargain-bin Dan Boyle replacement this summer. He's having a great season and had himself a terrific night; when he was on the ice at 5-on-5, shot attempts were 16-13 Florida. When he was on the bench, they were 52-21 in favor of the Sharks. He and Brian Campbell have been an oasis of awesome for that team this year.
- Good to see Havlat continue to chip in offensively but, as someone who's defended him a ton in the past, I'm not sure he's turned the corner others think he has. If anything, he's probably been significantly worse coming off this most recent injury (he missed games against Pittsburgh and Montreal due to what Todd McLellan described as "un-healthy" scratches) than he was prior. James Sheppard isn't quite good enough to carry a line to begin with but having to drag a largely ineffective Havlat around the ice has caused those two and Tommy Wingels to spend a lot of time in their own zone over the past five games. San Jose was outshot with Havlat on the ice at even-strength tonight despite outshooting the Panthers 36-23 overall at evens. If this loss causes the coaching staff to rethink and reconfigure their third line, it will have been worth it.
- Fortunately for the Sharks, they won't have to face the Hurricanes, Sabres and Panthers en route to the Stanley Cup this year. In all seriousness, it's hard to draw serious conclusions based on these games since the team doesn't appear to be all that geared up to play them until it's already too late. I highly doubt that will be the case on Thursday against Anaheim.
- Even a cynical bastard like me couldn't help but tear up at 17-year-old Sam Tageson, who was born with a heart condition and spent the day with the team through the Make-A-Wish foundation, acknowledging the crowd after he skated through the shark head and stood with the starters during the anthem. Here it is:
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Roberto Luongo
2nd Star: Brandon Pirri
3rd Star: Brent Burns