Back-to-back 5-3 finals saw the San Jose Sharks on the short-end of the stick against the Columbus Blue Jackets in what was probably the most winnable game during this road trip. Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine reunited on the first line, with Gaudreau and Laine combining for a goal and an assist each to fuel the Jackets’ comeback victory.
Gustav Nyquist had himself a two-point night and eventually scored the game winner. The Blue Jackets’ youth showed up as well, with University of Michigan converts Nick Blankenburg and Kent Johnson both notching two assists on the night.
Joonas Korpisalo took the goaltending spotlight for Columbus in the win, limiting the Sharks’ 15 shots in the first period to two goals. The Sharks put fewer shots on goal in the following periods combined, allowing Korpisalo to finish the night with a .920 save percentage (SV%) and 23 saves on 25 total shots. Damage control from the Blue Jackets prompted a mid-game rally, scoring three unanswered goals after Nico Sturm’s third period tally to momentarily put the Sharks up 3-2.
Other San Jose goals came from Timo Meier in the first and Nick Bonino in the second — of which Sturm earned an assist for two points on the night. As a foil to Korpisalo, fellow Finn, Kaapo Kahkonen, saw more work in the second and third period. He went 24-for-28 in saves and finished the game with a .857 SV%.
The reversal of fortunes has been an eerily present feature in the Sharks’ last pair of games, against the Dallas Stars and now the Jackets. This time, though, it was the other team that found a way to turn the tables on San Jose. But it wasn’t just Columbus’ comeback effort, as the Sharks can look inward at the many mistakes that caused the breakdown.
The Sharks face the Boston Bruins tonight, so they can’t dwell too long, but let’s roll the tape to see what the factors were in last night’s loss:
Gaudreau and Laine assemble
With the exception of newcomer Gaudreau to the Blue Jackets’ top-six, it can be said that the team’s top producers have had an up-and-down past few seasons. Boone Jenner and Laine have both dealt with recent injuries, though Laine in particular has juggled between lines in attempt to find consistent scoring.
With his recent success, including a hat trick on Jan. 14 against the Detroit Red Wings, head coach Brad Larsen put Laine back with Gaudreau and Jack Roslovic centering. As a result, the home of The Fifth Line was treated to what was envisioned when signing Gaudreau to pair alongside Laine on Columbus’ top line — a combination to rival ketchup and mustard.
Gaudreau eventually got Laine back with a helper on his third period goal, but this initial connect came on a Blue Jackets’ power play, exacerbating the Sharks’ issue of locking down the opposition’s stars into what is a worsening special teams issue.
What’s interesting is that Laine and Gaudreau together isn’t even the team’s best combination — with the current iteration including Roslovic down the middle logging less than 150 minutes — but partly because of the Sharks’ tendency to fail in containing the opposition’s big guns, Columbus’ top line was able to combined for five points.
Second period power outage
The Sharks put up just five SOG in the second period and another five in the third. That’s significantly less than the 15 put on in the first 20 minutes. So what were the Sharks doing that whole time in periods two and three? They were defending. The Blue Jackets took over in the second period going forward. Sturm did score to kick off the third period, but aside from that brief flash in the pan, the lights went out for the Sharks.
Goals two, three and four from Columbus were particularly worrisome in this game in that they were capitalized off of the Sharks’ defensive missteps. The Jackets quickly went from North to South to convert what was initially a Sharks missed shot into an odd-man rush the other way on Jenner’s second period equalizer. It was a moment where the Sharks’ defense was beat.
Then, failed attempts to clear the defensive zone resulted in back-to-back Columbus daggers from Laine and Nyquist, prompting the cannon volleys.
San Jose initially seemed to carry over momentum from the previous game against the Stars, where they scored five unanswered goals on Jan. 18. Meier and Bonino’s tallies made it seven straight before the team suddenly fell off the map. Despite a lopsided first period totally tilted in San Jose’s favor, Columbus’ rebutting effort was more enduring and ultimately more successful.
That cannon was pumping
‘Chelsea Dagger’ used to terrorize teams in the league circa 2015. Though Columbus hasn’t been as successful in past seasons as they were not too long ago, that cannon can still be demoralizing especially when it’s going off for back-to-back goals. It’s a testament to the magic of home ice advantage.
It’s a privilege that at current situation, couldn’t seem further away for the Sharks, who won’t be back at SAP Center and the motherly comfort of the Shark head until Feb. 18. With the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas Golden Knights and Boston Bruins among the oncoming hordes, the Sharks will somehow have to find comfort in discomfort — or else face further inflicted pain on this eight-game road trip.