They may have deserved a better fate than a three-goal loss after a relatively evenly-played game but an inability to manufacture second-chance opportunities against an on-his-game Ben Bishop coupled with defensive miscues at the other end of the ice led to the Sharks' sixth loss in eight games as they dropped a 5-2 decision to Tampa Bay on home ice.
Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn staked the Lightning to a 2-0 lead midway through the second period while Ondrej Palat and Cedric Paquette, despite a response from Brent Burns on the power play to Palat's tally, effectively put the game away in the third. It's another disappointing home loss for a team whose once-firm grasp on a playoff spot is fading as fast as attendance at SAP Center. With the defeat, the Sharks are now in a situation where Vancouver, Calgary, Los Angeles and Minnesota could all surpass them in the standings merely by winning their games in hand.
Even with the much-needed return of Marc-Edouard Vlasic to the lineup, the Sharks' overall defensive game didn't seem to improve. Scott Hannan was caught out of position on the Killorn goal, with Patrick Marleau in addition failing to read a switch. Brent Burns turned the puck over then turned away from Palat's shot attempt ten seconds into the third, allowing the Bolts to restore their two-goal lead. And Burns again was guilty of over-pursuing Valtteri Filppula on Tampa's fourth goal, cutting off Vlasic's route to the goal-scorer Paquette in the process.
At the other end of the rink, the Sharks had their fair share of odd-man rushes but Matt Nieto couldn't cash in on a breakaway, Tomas Hertl was stopped on a 2-on-1 and the team as a whole couldn't generate enough scoring chances off rebounds. If nothing else, this year's Sharks are supposed to be able to beat the good teams but they simply couldn't break through tonight against one of the best in the league.
- I'm generally skeptical of the value of "hits" as a stat but Tommy Wingels was credited with six tonight and seemingly every single one of those made a legitimate impact on the game. Hits on Lightning defensemen Jason Garrison and Victor Hedman in particular directly led to Sharks scoring chances.
- It's a solid indication of the amount of respect the Tyler Johnson line for Tampa has garnered around the league this season that Todd McLellan was aggressive in matching his top shutdown unit of Marleau, Couture, Nieto, Vlasic and Burns against them rather than Steven Stamkos all game.
- Of course, Jon Cooper was all too eager to exploit the consequences of that matchup, twice manufacturing goals with Stamkos on the ice against Scott Hannan. Hannan's #veteranpresence instructed him to double-cover Alex Killorn in front of the net rather than pick up Ryan Callahan sneaking in on the back door on Tampa's second goal, apparently.
- Hannan was one of the few Sharks defensemen to have a decent game in Arizona while Mirco Mueller was certainly not among the group so the decision to sit the latter in favor of the former tonight made sense with Vlasic back in the lineup. Still, it wouldn't hurt to put the rookie in more frequently than the Sharks were doing prior to Vlasic's injury.
- There's bad ice and then there's whatever slush-infested surface the Sharks and Lightning were skating on today. Routine passes were being bobbled, the puck was bouncing unpredictably and players were falling down unimpeded all over the place.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Ben Bishop
2nd Star: Steven Stamkos
3rd Star: Ryan Callahan