Quick Bites: Sharks fall flat in first half of back-to-back

Who wants to maintain a win streak, anyway?

The Boston Bruins are a formidable opponent when they want to be, and the San Jose Sharks sometimes have a problem matching the urgency of the opposing team during 5-on-5 play. Not to give any spoilers away … but that was the theme of the Sharks’ tilt against the Bruins.

Jonathan Dahlen was in surprisingly the line-up as a late addition, after Andrew Cogliano needed to step away for a game to attend a personal matter. Dahlen has had his fair share of wavering confidence and difficult games (although we believe wholeheartedly in his ability to be a top-six forward!) and while he didn’t necessarily shine, he wasn’t a liability, either.

James Reimer was back in net, starting his eleventh straight game. It’s not the longest streak of his career, but it is getting close to his record at 17. Zach Sawchenko was sitting as back-up and Adin Hill is still on injured reserve. Jeremy Swayman got the nod in net for Boston.

The first period began with an extended power play. The Sharks’ special teams have been spectacular lately, a bright spot that can sometimes compensate for their even-strength lapses in defensive coverage and difficulty in breaking out of the zone. If there was ever a night to turn on the gas for the power play, this was it; when the Bruins are ‘on’ they’re on fire and not letting up.

It goes without saying that whoever flipped the on switch for the Bruins’ defense forgot to turn on the Sharks, as well.

Overall, it was a very strongly controlled game by Boston, and San Jose struggled with effective communication and puck management. A few skaters looked productive in that period: Ryan Dzingel had a particularly strong transition game and playing up during the few times the Sharks were able to gain a significant amount of offensive zone time.

Something always happens in last five minutes of every period, I swear. Brad Marchand scored the first goal of the game off of the faceoff draw. If it sounds like a familiar tune, it’s because the Sharks have struggled effectively defending quick shots off of the faceoff circle. You do have to cut the team some slack because a one-timer off of a set pass off of a faceoff win is a difficult play to defend.

The Bruins then took a too many men penalty, but the Sharks’ power play was ultimately unsuccessful. With just a minute left in the period, Charlie McAvoy created a dangerous opportunity because Timo Meier was unable to pinch Patrice Bergeron, and the puck nearly squeaked through Reimer before he was able to fall back and cover it.

The second period started with another penalty, this time on the Sharks, but the penalty kill went to work proving that their past excellence was not a fluke. For as much special teams time was needed for the Sharks to generate any high-danger shots on goal, any momentum swing the other way was a nail-biter. The Sharks couldn’t let the game get away from them too easily.

Both teams traded chances throughout the rest of the period, with looks from Jonah Gadjovich and David Pastrnak included, but for every shot blocked (Dahlen with a particularly well-placed own-zone block himself), the Bruins seemed to block five. The Sharks were gaining very little zone time by the halfway mark in the period and the shot clock showed it – Boston had 21 shots to San Jose’s 7, with 9:45 left in the second.

Then, disaster struck. Mario Ferraro went careening into the boards on a hit and hit his ankle funky. He left the game unable to put weight on his left foot, and wouldn’t return to the game. The loss of yet another defenseman puts strain on the Sharks’ reserves. While the organization certainly has a variety of talented forwards to pull up, their extra defensemen are already here. Jaycob Megna and Nicolas Meloche are amongst the injured, and Ryan Merkley and Radim Simek were in the line-up in order to have at least a full set on the bench to start the game.

Maybe Santeri Hatakka will be the next man up?

Thankfully, the Sharks were able to tie the score due to (what else but) a power play goal from Timo Meier, a one-timer that echoed Marchand’s. I’m not complaining about how special the special teams have been, I just wish the special teams were good when 5-on-5 was equally as strong.

In a true turn of fate, the Sharks took their own too many men penalty in the final five minutes of the period, and miraculously (cough Reimer cough) escaped unscathed. For as amazing as special teams have been, the team can’t depend on them forever.

Noah Gregor high-sticked Bergeron in the opening two minutes of the third period. While the penalty kill was good, Marchand scored right after the power play expired. Logan Couture lost his stick in the high slot and the shot deflected off Reimer’s shoulder and in, another one-timer, the score now 2-1.

The Sharks were losing battles down low and didn’t have much energy or fight beyond the last five minutes of each period. Either they were physically tired or, the mental exhaustion of a grueling season peppered with recent losses were getting to them, because whatever urgency the Bruins had, the Sharks couldn’t keep pace.

Out of all three periods, the best zone time came in the third, but even then, the Sharks were kept to the outside.

Gregor had words with Brandon Carlo, Gajovich had something to say to Charlie Coyle, and then, of course, it was Jeffrey Viel who actually got something going with Connor Clifton. Both received two minutes for roughing, but the 4-on-4 gave the Sharks a valuable opportunity to tie the game at 2 goals each.

But they did not tie the game at 2.

After a series of Picasso-like saves by Swayman, the momentum swung the other way and Bergeron was able to lift the puck right over Reimer in the final 39 seconds of the game to get the insurance goal, 3-1.

The Sharks being flat-footed and low-energy doesn’t bode well for a back-to-back, but at least when it comes to having clear points of improvement, they have to know what they need to do.