Sharks get shutout in Calgary, lose 4-0

The biggest question for me coming into tonight's game was how the third line of Jamie McGinn, Logan Couture, and Torrey Mitchell would be able to handle a much more physical team than the likes of Colorado and Edmonton. Their speed through the neutral zone is unquestionable, but while their forechecking abilities have looked phenomenal in the last two games together, playing the Flames in Calgary is a much different physical test than anything they've run up against thus far.

As it turns out, they didn't have enough time to even give viewers a glimpse of how they would handle that challenge.

Calgary pounced on the Sharks early and quickly, scoring four goals in the first twelve minutes of the first period to end the tilt before it even had a chance to get interesting. Rene Borque had a pair of goals for the Flames, with Jarome Iginla and Craig Conroy adding a tally of their own. Miika Kiprusoff had his second shutout of the season, and the Sharks fell back to .500 in regulation on the year.

Rene Borque opened up the scoring for Calgary with a great feed from Niklas Hagman through the box on the power play. Some pretty basic passing on the half boards opened the Sharks defense up wider than the holes in Charlie Kelly's jean shorts, and the cross-ice feed was too quick for Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi to get over.

The second goal came off a pretty innocent looking rush up the ice following a Ryane Clowe bid that was deflected out of the Sharks offensive zone. Alex Tanguay corralled the puck as he crossed the blueline, making a nifty drop pass to Jarome Iginla who blasted a shot past Niemi. It was another example of Niemi's struggles to make saves on anything over the Sharks crest on his chest. All of a sudden the Sharks were down by a pair and struggling to find their rhythm.

But Calgary wouldn't let up.

The Flames continued their onslaught on the helpless Niemi in first period, born of shoddy defensive play by the Sharks blueliners and an inability to make the big save by Niemi himself. Douglas Murray stepped up in the neutral zone too aggressively as he tried to land a big hit, joining Ryane Clowe who had made the correct play and was providing pressure to the puck carrier. The Sharks were caught on a 2 on 1 coming out of a line change, and although Dan Boyle did his best to take away the pass, Stefan Meyer threaded it through the center of the ice to Craig Conroy who jammed it home. It was another questionable play by the Sharks Swedish blueliner, who has to be much more intelligent in his decision making if he wants to give San Jose the top four minutes they desperately require of him.

Murray has had a very disappointing start to the 2010-2011 season, with defensive zone giveaways and slow skates pervading his 19:13 of average ice time. Improvement from him is essential if the Sharks blueline is to provide the necessary help for the talented forward group to score goals and move the puck up the ice.

After the third goal, Niemi was subsequently pulled to the glowing jubilee of the crowd at Scotiabank Saddledome. As David Pollak of Working The Corners stated earlier today, Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan will have to face second guessing all season long when it comes to his goaltending starts. And while Niemi clearly isn’t the goaltender that the Sharks expected him to be right now (something that may not be a surprise to offseason Fear The Fin readers), the decision to start Niemi tonight was the right one. A back to back game is prime time for a backup to get his licks in, especially one such as Niemi who is struggling right now in between the pipes (with the obligatory footnote that he is getting no help from his defenseman).

Antero Niittymaki's inclusion into the game was still not enough to stem the tide however, as the Flames would add one more before the twelve minute mark of the game was reached.

Off the rush Borque tallied his second of the night, as well as his fifth in four periods, blowing one through Niittymaki who had his angles covered. It was a weak goal from the Finnish goaltender, and one that essentially put the game out of reach mere minutes into the tilt.

The second period was similar to the first, with the Sharks taking nearly seven minutes before registering their first shot of the period. And while the team would gradually improve in the scoring opportunities department as the game wore on, a four goal lead was too much to handle.

The team will now have two days off to prepare for another pre-season favorite struggling with inconsistency, the New Jersey Devils.

Some other notes from tonight's game:

  • Classy move by Todd McLellan after the Sharks went down by four to put Ryane Clowe with Logan Couture and Jamie McGinn on the third line. While a lot of it was likely due to help San Jose generate more offense, that also gives the Sharks young kids a physical presence on the line who can attempt to diffuse some nastiness that might amount from a blowout score. At any rate, it's a good looking line that the Sharks can turn to as it pairs a playmaker (Couture) and two guys with some quality board play (Clowe, McGinn) that have good hands to boot. Look for that throughout the year if the Sharks are struggling within a specific game.
  • Devin Setoguchi loves that play where he comes around the back of the net on the backhand, only to spin towards the net on his forehand and try and put the puck in shortside.
  • Ian White is just a gem on the point. One of the few quality acquisitions Calgary General Manager Darryl Sutter has made in the past five years outside of Jay Bouwmeester. White ran that power play beautifully tonight, with a booming shot from the blueline and a slew of clean passes from his forehand and backhand to the Flames forward group. An extremely exciting player to watch, and a potential trade target if Calgary struggles down the stretch.
  • Scott Nichol was injured on the penalty kill during the game, taking a slap shot off the inside of his foot. He left the game midway through the second period and did not return. Nichol is a warrior and one of the toughest players on the team, so I don't expect him to miss much time. If anything, it was a decision McLellan made in order to play it safe considering the score at the time of his injury.
  • Good job by Niittymaki to keep his head in the game after his first goal against to begin the game. As we mentioned last week he's clearly the Sharks goaltender who is playing the best hockey right now, and it was nice to see him stop the bleeding with some quality saves.
  • Jay Woodcroft looks like Logan Couture's older brother.
  • Calgary's in-game production crew is awesome, based solely off the fact that they played "The Impression That I Get" by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and "Born To Run" by Bruce Springsteen. Helluva selection right there.

Go Sharks.