The Montreal Canadiens’ season began in a downward spiral of absences from key roster members due to injury and a crisis of confidence. The first game the San Jose Sharks played against Montreal on Oct. 19, they crushed the Canadiens, 5-0. It seems like netminder Jake Allen may have taken it personally, because he snagged a shutout and a 4-0 win over the Sharks in the second and final meeting between the two teams.
This season (albeit reminiscent of Sharks teams past), San Jose’s Achilles heel is the first period. They start off lethargic and flat-footed, and their lack of energy usually leads to an early goal. Against Montreal last night, it was the same story.
With almost eight minutes left on the clock in the first period, Mike Hoffman was left virtually unguarded behind the Sharks’ net, which led to a sneaky wrist shot, assisted by Brett Kulak and Nick Suzuki. By now, the Sharks should be used to battling back in the first behind a goal, but they were tired and faced a hot goaltender. The energy just wasn’t there for them.
Their issue with energy in the first period is becoming a problem, now that we’re seven games into the season. At first, it could be explained as a new team still finding their footing, compounded by a grueling road trip. We could chalk this slow period off to the same thing, but it might be indicative of a larger problem. If they can’t lock down the first period and cease giving up early goals, teams are going to take notice and take advantage of that, if they haven’t already.
Montreal came out strong, and it’s no wonder. Their season has been less than peachy, including a 5-1 loss to the Seattle Kraken on Tuesday.
Timo Meier said it himself: “They lost in Seattle, came here, they’re under pressure to do well, so we knew they were going to come out hard. We didn’t start the game the right way.”
The second period started off better for the first five minutes, until the energy ran out. Drop passes to no one, missed connections and miscommunication plagued the Sharks, even as there were glimpses of outstanding zone breakouts and some fancy puck-handling (I’m looking at you, William Eklund). Adin Hill looked off his game, and the rest of the Sharks were no better. The Sharks gave up too many rushes, and when they spent time in the Canadien’s zone (predominantly on the power play), shots whistled wide of the net. With less than half the period left, a surprise slap shot from Alexander Romanov, assisted by Jonathan Drouin put the Sharks behind two.
At this point, San Jose looked tired, but also defeated. The physical energy that belied the Sharks’ first few games was nowhere to be found. It was like the last two games in Boston and Nashville had reminded them of how easy it was to give up, and just ... lose.
In the third period, the Sharks picked up the pace a little bit, which only played into the theme of the night. They had energy at the least opportune times — at the end of power plays and periods.
The bright spot in the third was that the team relied on a tried-and-true method for success: shooting the damn puck every chance they had. In the first forty minutes, the Sharks hesitated at times, but by the end of the game, they threw everything on net, hoping to at least end Allen’s shutout bid. It didn’t work, mostly because the shots on goal the Sharks were getting were right to Allen’s chest and they generally went unscreened. If he saw the puck, he was saving it.
Despite the loss, there were some upsides. The second line (Tomas Hertl, Eklund and Rudolfs Balcers) had great chances all night after a relatively quiet road trip, and Erik Karlsson had a fantastic game regardless of the score. Bob Boughner spoke on Hertl’s line after the game, saying, “That’s a good sign that they’re getting those looks. I thought that Eklund played well on that line as well. It’s just a matter of sticking with it.”
While last years’ team may have let the losing streak get to them early on, the Sharks’ revamped locker room means that they’re in a better position to shake off the losses.
Karlsson told us that, too.
“We have the belief in the room right now that we are a good team. We know where we want to go. This is a part of our journey, we have to go through stages like this.”
That being said, I still wouldn’t be surprised if there was some bag-skating in Friday’s practice to make up for all those turnovers.