The big question heading into the tilt against the New York Rangers was whether or not the san Jose Sharks would be able to win three games in a row. The team has struggled to hit a winning stride, but with the confidence coming off another overtime win, the Sharks had an opportunity to build upon their momentum.
Going into the game, the Sharks were tied with the Los Angeles Kings for third in the division with 41 points and in the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. At this point in the season, consistency is everything.
Adin Hill was back in net again, with Zach Sawchenko as his back-up, as James Reimer is still on injured reserve (IR). Defender Braden Schneider, a first-round selection in the 2020 NHL Draft, made his debut for the Rangers, and it was Sharks forward Andrew Cogliano’s 1,100th NHL game. Radim Simek was scratched for the second game in a row, along with Nicolas Meloche and Lane Pederson, while Nick Bonino made his return from COVID Protocol, along with Rudolfs Balcers from IR.
The first five minutes were largely in favor of the Rangers, and they were certainly more physical than the Sharks early on. The Sharks couldn’t break the puck out of the zone and had a few missed passes when they had a chance on net. Jasper Weatherby had a good look from the point, and the crowd was starting to get restless, even with only five minutes gone; there were many a “just hit somebody!” emanating from the crowd.
(For the record, the players can hear fans yell things at them from the stands, and they do think it’s annoying).
The next five minutes were all end-to-end play with a couple of great set-up plays that generated high-quality shots on net for the Sharks. The problem was that goaltender Igor Shesterkin was locked in and not letting anything past. With less than half the period on the clock, Ryan Strome took a cross-checking penalty. It was a short-lived Sharks power play when, on a rush chance, Chris Kreider sneaked it past Hill. I say ‘sneaked’ because while Hill thought he had the puck, it actually slid right across the goal line behind him and he was none the wiser until it was too late. After the Rangers’ short-handed goal, the power play was unable to settle in, and expired.
Early on, Weatherby stood out as a leader on the fourth line, centering a few chances and parking himself in front of the net. The last five minutes were a flurry of Sharks chances. They were doing everything right — except scoring.
Ryan Merkley fumbled the puck at the blue line when he tried to dangle around two Rangers, and nearly sprung a rush the other way, but it did send the Sharks out of the offensive zone and forced them to lose precious zone time.
The final minute of the first was fast-paced, exciting hockey complete with zero goals, leaving the Sharks to enter the second period down one.
Within the first five minutes, Adam Raska boarded K’Andre Miller, who was slow to get up, and the Sharks were sent to the penalty kill. They were able to shut down the Rangers’ power play with good defensive stick placements, but the momentum was with New York.
Despite how well the Sharks were communicating with each other, or how many shooting lanes they had possession of, the goals just wouldn’t come. The Rangers (read: Shesterkin) were just that good. Then, Logan Couture got tripped up by Noah Gregor and went careening into the boards, losing his stick in the process.
It’s around this point that the fighting began — and when I say fighting, I mean vague tussling between Timo Meier and Jacob Trouba during live play around the Rangers net. The scuffling ended in Meier being called for cross-checking (to be fair, he did cross-check Trouba) and Trouba sat for interference.
The Rangers had a near wrap-around that Hill stymied, Cogliano had a 2-on-1 that almost went in, and the jets were on for both teams. By the end of the second period, it had become a game of goaltending.
Right on cue, Jacob Trouba and Jeffrey Viel fought, both were given off-setting 5-minute fighting majors, and the streak of games in which Viel has a fight continued on. A scoring attempt from Couture and Meier nearly resulted in a goal, and it went under review, but Shesterkin had the puck before Meier was shoved into him and sent the net swinging off its hinges.
Toward the end of the period, SAP Center was playing a lot of DJ edits of popular TikTok songs (do with that information what you will) and the Rangers were looking for another goal. While Hill had given up a few nasty rebounds earlier in the game, by this point he did his best to swallow any pucks.
The Sharks hit a post, it was a series of near-misses for both teams, and then the second period ended with the Rangers up, 1-0.
San Jose was flat-footed to start the third, and it showed when an own-zone turnover led to Braden Schneider’s first career NHL goal, on the (you guessed it) glove side of Adin Hill.
Beyond the first few minutes of the third, which were less than stellar for the Sharks, their defensive coverage was back up to par. It’s part of why this was a frustrating game — the Sharks were doing everything right, but a few costly mistakes, an unprepared Hill on the second goal, and a hot goaltender in Shesterkin made it so they were kept off the board, despite their best effort.
I cannot express how close the Sharks were to at least breaking the shutout. A puck would bounce off the barest hint of Shesterkin’s pad, despite every Sharks skater converging on the puck and doing everything in their power to body it in.
And when I say ‘every Shark,’ I really mean Timo Meier, who had about three to five shots on net in a row. His efforts did lead to a power play, after his energetic play led to Trouba getting called for interference on Bonino.
The power play came with barely two minutes left on the clock, and with the empty net for the extra attacker on the ice, it was easy pickings for Kreider to push the score to 3-0 with less than thirty seconds on the clock. If the game could be summed up on one way, it would be ‘bad puck luck.’
Someone should have thrown an octopus on the ice for good luck. But to be fair, Igor Shesterkin hasn’t allowed a Sharks goal in six periods of play — that might have something to do with the loss, too.