You could make a lot of excuses for last night’s Sharks loss. They were playing without the services of their best defensive defenseman, who was sidelined with a lower body injury, and their second line center isn’t quite ready to return from his own injury. The game was also the second half of a back-to-back, played in San Jose less than 24 hours after a game in Anaheim, and their starting goaltender was getting the night off in favor of his backup, who’s again struggled to find any consistency after a rough 2014–15.
But to make such excuses would be to ignore how well the Sharks played in those circumstances, facing a rested Lightning team and a goalie with the third-best goals against average in the NHL this season. It wasn’t a perfect game for San Jose—far from it—but when they play like they did last night, they’ll come out on top more often than not, especially when Marc-Edouard Vlasic (whose injury is not believed to be serious) and Logan Couture (who hasn’t been ruled out for the Sharks’ upcoming games in Calgary and Edmonton) are in the lineup and Martin Jones is in net.
Soon after Tampa’s second goal, shot attempts were 10–3 in favor of the Lightning. In the final 46 minutes, San Jose attempted 66 shots, including 31 at even strength. to 28 by Tampa (21 at even strength). Of course, they won’t often get eight attempts on the power play—seven if we discount the one that only lasted 23 seconds—but their lack of even strength goals on the night wasn’t due to lack of effort.
The top line of Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, and Melker Karlsson had an unreal night. All three, along with Brent Burns, finished with Corsis of +12 or better at even strength, and when you include the power play, Pavelski and Thornton were +29 and Burns was +28. Tomas Hertl was +10 at 5-on-5 and Joel Ward was +7 on his wing as part of a reconfigured third line.
The Sharks’ utter domination of Tampa’s special teams units was a welcome sight and a sign that maybe the power play isn’t doomed, after all. The three goals raised San Jose’s power play percentage to 17th in the league—still not great, but a far cry from the last place spot it occupied a few short weeks ago. Even the second unit chipped in thanks to Matt Tennyson, which isn’t something we get to write very often.
Though the Sharks are still in second place in the Pacific Division, Arizona, Vancouver, and Anaheim are all within three points of them. Last night’s loss means they could be in fourth place by the time they hit the ice again in Calgary on Tuesday. It’s only December, but they’ll need to continue their recent road success to keep from sinking in the standings.