Sharks suffer first regulation loss in second half of back-to-back
The sky is falling.
This was always going to be a difficult game for the Sharks to win, coming less than 24 hours after their previous contest while their opponents, playing at home, had rested for three days. And despite an encouraging start that featured a grade-A scoring chance for Logan Couture less than a minute in, a goal-line save by Rangers defenseman Matt Hunwick and a crisp-looking power play, it turned out to be as unpleasant a game as expected for San Jose. New York tilted the ice in their favor during the second period and skated away with a 4-0 win, handing the Sharks their first regulation loss of the young season.
Ironically, this was also the Sharks' first game in which they outshot their opponent thanks entirely to a 13-5 showing in the third period after the game was already out of reach. Apart from that pushback there wasn't a whole lot to like about San Jose's game today but, again, it's hard to judge them too harshly given the circumstances. Mirco Mueller and Brent Burns inexplicably continue to be paired and unsurprisingly continued to struggle with a forgettable night for both of them culminating in a disastrous breakout that led to Kevin Hayes' first NHL goal (roughly the 715th first NHL goal scored against the Sharks).
The one player you can't really play the "it's still early" card with is Mueller since the Sharks will need to make a decision following his 9th game on whether or not they intend to keep him up for the full season and burn a year of his entry-level contract. Outside of a promising debut against Los Angeles, Mueller hasn't looked NHL-ready or, at the very least, should not be playing top-four minutes alongside a guy who hasn't played the position on a regular basis in well over two years. Mueller's on-ice shot attempt ratio through five games is now below 40% as the 19-year-old has been as much a part of the Sharks' early-season puck possession woes as anyone.
Alex Stalock will probably receive most of the blame for this loss and understandably so as his failure to control Carl Hagelin's initial shot led to the Rangers' opening goal and a brutal misplay of the puck led to Rick Nash's late second period back-breaker. That poor puckhandling decision was one of many in the game for Stalock, uncharacteristic of a goaltender who regularly flashed his puck skills when he drew into the lineup last season. It's unlikely Stalock will be quite this bad again, especially when it comes to handling the puck, but the door has been busted wide open for Antti Niemi to fully reclaim his starting job.
Ultimately it's just one game and, that too, a game in which the deck was largely stacked against the Sharks thanks to the vagaries of the NHL's schedule. But after the Sharks banked 9 of 10 points in their first five games despite not playing particularly well, perhaps a 4-0 loss will shine a light on some of the underlying issues that have been present all along. Specifically the issues inherent in a second defense pairing that features one player who probably belongs in junior and another who should probably be playing up front.