San Jose's up-and-down season reached its latest valley Monday as they were defeated by the Calgary Flames for the third time at home, and fourth time overall, this year. Following the recipe of their prior victories against the Sharks, the Flames capitalized on San Jose's mistakes and rode a great goaltending performance from Jonas Hiller to a low-scoring (at least prior to the empty netter) win. The victory catapulted Calgary past the Sharks and into second place in the Pacific as they improved to an improbable 17-4-1 against divisional opponents.
Brent Burns scored the Sharks' lone goal with a floater from the point with exactly one second remaining in the middle frame but it was Burns' second minor penalty of the game that set up a Jiri Hudler power play goal in the third that put things effectively out of reach. What makes San Jose's struggles against the Flames particularly frustrating, but perhaps better places them in the context of the Sharks' overall season, is that Calgary just isn't this good. They're the third-worst puck possession team in the NHL, they have two bottom-ten special teams units and, as much as Hiller tends to channel Dominik Hasek when he plays the Sharks, he's an average starting goalie at best at this point in his career.
A near-9% 5-on-5 shooting percentage (to go along with their 11 4-on-4 goals) is the only reason the Flames are flirting with a playoff spot this late in the season and, considering their most dangerous shooter is probably Jiri Hudler, that's a scoring clip that isn't likely to last the year. So despite Calgary's place in the standings relative to the Carolinas and Edmontons of the league, the question facing the Sharks, as they finish their season series against the Flames having dropped four of five crucial contests, is a familiar one: why does San Jose keep losing to crappy teams? The answer is probably some combination of bad luck and poor preparation but that's becoming a decidedly less satisfying response with each standings point the Sharks skitter away against inferior competition.
- This was simultaneously the best forward corps and worst blueline the Sharks have iced all season. So of course they ended up mustering just one goal in a low-scoring loss.
- Tomas Hertl's strength, particularly during board play and when attempting to hold off opposing defenders, has looked noticeably better of late compared to the first few months of the season. More power moves like the one he pulled tonight for a backhand wraparound and he'll start getting rewarded with goals on a regular basis.
- Brent Burns with his 23rd and 24th minor penalties of the season tonight. It's been an issue all year and doesn't seem to be an aspect of the positional shift he'll ever truly figure out.
- Why was James Sheppard, he of the 44.1% career faceoff percentage, taking the draws on a line with Andrew Desjardins, a career 53.3% in the dot? It directly burned the Sharks on the Lance Bouma goal and made no sense generally, forcing both players into their respective weaker position. The coaching staff needs to accept that Sheppard isn't a center already.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Lance Bouma
2nd Star: Jonas Hiller
3rd Star: Johnny Gaudreau