For the second time in five days, the Sharks blue themselves. Specifically, they were dismantled by a 7-2 score tonight in St. Louis, the same margin by which they were routed on home ice Saturday night. In a pair of games that will hopefully bookend Joe Thornton's stint on injured reserve, the Sharks looked thoroughly outclassed without their number one center against a deep, skilled and flat-out superior opponent.
As was the case at the Tank on Saturday, the Sharks looked to have a fighting chance early on in this game. After trading goals on the penalty kill, Melker Karlsson cashing in a rebound to extend his goal-scoring streak to four early in the second period brought San Jose to within a goal of St. Louis. But a slapshot goal from a wide-open Jori Lehtera courtesy some lax coverage by Justin Braun followed quickly by a T.J. Oshie conversion that chased Antti Niemi from the net effectively ended any hope of a Sharks comeback.
Overall, the Sharks have now been outscored 19-11 in their four Thornton-less games and while two of those were victories (albeit against injury-riddled and goaltending-deficient opponents, respectively), it's clear the Sharks miss their former captain. As important as Thornton is, though, it's hard to say he would have significantly changed the outcome of the team's two blowout losses to the powerhouse Blues. There are real systemic issues that go beyond Thornton, ranging from an inadequate right side on defense to supreme and coinciding slumps by Patrick Marleau, Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto to leaky goaltending from Niemi and Alex Stalock alike. It's probably going to take a lot more than getting Thornton back to get the Sharks completely back on track but they could sure use their best player sometime soon.
- With how Justin Braun has played for most of this season, taking a severe step back after a breakout campaign last year, the right side of the Sharks' blueline which features Braun, the erratic Brent Burns and the talented but largely out of his depth Matt Tennyson, might be even more concerning than their left side.
- That's...bizarre, to say the least, considering the team entered the season with literally one NHL-caliber left-side defenseman. The addition of Brenden Dillon upped it to two but, still, the defense is certainly a point of concern.
- Antti Niemi needs to be better, to state the obvious, at the very least so the Sharks can get a decent return for him on the trading market should they choose to go that route (and given the risks associated with signing Niemi, or any goalie, to the kind of long-term deal Niemi's lack of competition in free agency will likely warrant, they should seriously consider that route).
- Breaking news: Brent Burns still can't defend. He took an inexplicably circuitous path back to his own zone on the T.J. Oshie goal, leaving Oshie completely unguarded in front of the net in the process. Then he made a blind breakout pass despite plenty of time late in the game right onto the stick of David Backes, eventually allowing the St. Louis captain to score. This is while being babysat by Marc-Edouard Vlasic too.
- I know, the "move Burns back to first-line right wing and Pavelski to third-line center" campaign has grown tired and is almost certainly not going to happen this year (and, again, with how weak the right side is, would require the Sharks to add a defenseman from outside the organization). But it's worth noting St. Louis seems to be having plenty of success using their expensive U.S. Olympian as a third-line center. Just saying.
- Full credit to Logan Couture for shooting rather than passing on his second odd-man rush, converting that opportunity after his failed attempt earlier on directly led to Alexander Steen's opening goal. Unfortunately Couture (and his linemates) weren't good enough at even-strength and he ended up getting scored on three times in that game state while carrying just 27% of the play.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Jaden Schwartz
2nd Star: Paul Stastny
3rd Star: Jori Lehtera