Joe Pavelski was back at SAP Center last night, as he and the Dallas Stars came to town for the second of three meetings against the San Jose Sharks. Playing against his former team in his former home didn’t seem to shake the former Sharks captain, though, as the Stars continue to fight for a playoff spot.
Kaapo Kahkonen was given the start in net, although (spoiler alert) he wouldn’t last long. Jonathan Dahlen also drew back in the line-up after an absence due to injury. The first period started off with a bang, raising hope that this game could have turned out a different way. Just two minutes in, Nick Bonino swept the puck the other way after an extended forecheck. With Scott Wedgewood flattened on the ice, it was an easy opening for Bonino.
Bonino scores early off the rebound pic.twitter.com/6ZEshTVXV1— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) April 3, 2022
In what would become a theme throughout this game, Dallas answered back almost immediately. The Sharks were stuck cycling the puck behind their own net, and coming off an errant pass seemingly meant for Alexander Barabanov, Vladislav Namestnikov took advantage of the miscue and equalized the score at one.
There were breaks both ways, and while the Stars certainly aren’t a top contender, the Sharks kneecapped themselves. At least one player on each line gave an individual effort, like Matt Nieto or Noah Gregor, but there was no cohesive play. They were sloppy, although not totally ineffective when in the offensive zone — they were able to keep the puck in, but it wasn’t with finesse, and they lost more battles along the boards than they won.
Dallas didn’t stop scoring, either, putting San Jose in a hole early on. About halfway through the first, a play percolated with a battle along the boards and a mistimed pass. From there, the Sharks were out of position coming back into the defensive zone and defender Jani Hakanpaa took advantage.
A minute later, with Mario Ferraro still shaking off the dust and more mismanagement (and no one covering the left side of the net and providing goal support), Roope Hintz extended Dallas’ lead to two.
In the final few seconds of the period — or more like, the final second — sophomore phenom Jason Robertson, on a faceoff win, went for a surprising one-timer and unexpected scramble that did, in fact, count. The Sharks ended the period down 4-1.
Scott Reedy, who had gone off sometime in the first was back on the bench to start the second period. James Reimer was in net, and with the goaltending change, the message was received. Instantly the defensive zone coverage was better. The team was still plagued by turnovers and missed passes up the middle, but the net-front presence improved.
Rebound control has been an issue the whole season. When in front of their own net, the Sharks have trouble effectively clearing the puck, and more often than not the puck will come back into their own net. When in the offensive zone, nine times out of ten there isn’t a player there to capitalize upon a rebound the way other teams seem to do. Reimer was forced to freeze more pucks than not, in order to account for any possible chance off a rebound.
If you’re wondering what the problem was in attempting to make up the scoring deficit, it’s this; San Jose couldn’t stage a concentrated forecheck, and instead relied upon dump-ins or rushes. Not only does that increase the chance for turnovers or miscommunication, but it makes it difficult to generate high-quality shots.
A little after halfway in the period, there was (finally) someone to scoop up a rebound in front of Wedgewood. The play began with Sasha Chmelevski finding the puck, and sending it to Brent Burns, who drove to the net, cutting the lead in half, 4-2.
Chmelevski ➡️ Burns to cut the lead to two pic.twitter.com/TPrWtFF9db— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) April 3, 2022
Toward the final few minutes of the second period, it was clear that the Sharks were getting frustrated, but weren’t able to effectively utilize their energy to connect on plays, entering the third in need of at least two goals, which seemed doable.
Rudolfs Balcers and Dahlen had started the game on the top line and slowly drifted down through the line-up. Special teams were also below average, and whatever brief penalty kills and power plays the Sharks were given, not much happened.
Nicolas Meloche, who was in for Ryan Merkley with Mario Ferraro’s return, was just as impressive as usual, and Logan Couture stepped up to the plate in the third. But even with their individual effort, it wasn’t enough to stop Joe Pavelski.
With three Sharks on the left side, no skaters were covering Pavelski, who took advantage of the holes in the low-zone defense. Pavelski made it 5-2, and a comeback seemed impossible. But in true Sharks fashion, goals are better late than never.
After a four-minute Stars power play — Tomas Hertl was called for a particularly violent hi-stick on Luke Glendening — John Leonard revitalized the team with a tipped-in puck from Erik Karlsson and a mad scramble in front of the net in the final five minutes.
With barely a minute and a half left on the board, Couture shoved the puck in a frenetic scrum that was largely led by Chmelevski, who was initially though to be the goal-scorer. It was confirmed to be a good goal, and with the score now 5-4, all the Sharks needed was one more goal to tie the game and bring it to overtime.
Despite best efforts, however, a minute wasn’t enough time to complete the comeback, and Dallas won, 5-4.
Couture scores but the Sharks are unable to complete the comeback pic.twitter.com/W3C1fKeu7s— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) April 3, 2022
The possible two points from this game would have been mood-boosting for sure, but this game was less about an ill-fated drive towards the playoffs and more about ending the season on a high note, confident in their roster and the trajectory of the team.
As it stands right now, it’s clear that some players are feeling better than others, and that an off-season of rest and recuperation may do some of the younger players’ confidence good. A final month of losing will definitely hurt morale, but if the Sharks can pull together a few wins to close out the season, then next year (should be) better.