Winning Play: Chump or Champ?

On one hand, the Sharks are 6-2-2 in their last 10, even after losing 4-3 to the Dallas Stars on Thursday night.

On the other hand, they still have a lot of work to do if they mean to challenge for the Cup.

It wasn’t just the embarrassment of Grade-A opportunities that they afforded the Stars. It was how individual Sharks reacted to the breakdowns.

A goal against, of course, usually isn’t because of just one breakdown — it’s because of a series of them. Before the puck gets past the goaltender, there are often multiple points when a team’s defense, even on its heels, can at least hinder the opposition’s scoring chance.

It’s a grace under fire that can be the difference between first-round chum and Stanley Cup champion.

Under pressure in Dallas, San Jose proved wanting. Yes, it’s just one game.

But when Joe Pavelski says, “There’s still another level we can get to” — this is one of those levels.

A lot of things went wrong on Devin Shore’s game-opening strike, but let’s look at how we got to this exact point:

Joakim Ryan (47) had failed to separate a hard-charging Valeri Nichushkin (43) from the puck in the neutral zone, but no problem.

In theory, things were evened up: Three Sharks defending, three Stars attacking. But regardless, an outnumbered attack developed, as Barclay Goodrow (23) shaded toward Nichushkin. There were two Sharks — Goodrow and Brent Burns (88) — on Nichushkin.

Goodrow did force Nichushkin to drop it off to the trailer, Tyler Seguin (91). But Seguin recognized an unmarked Shore (17), lane all to himself, with a pass.

1-0 Stars.

On Gemel Smith’s 3-1 dagger, Burns’s aggressive pinch received the loudest criticism. Sharks TV color commentator Bret Hedican noted, “If you don’t get the puck, you gotta take the body. He doesn’t, misses both.”

Hedican certainly wasn’t wrong, but it wasn’t the pinch that buried San Jose. It was here:

From blueline to blueline, Dallas enjoyed a 3-on-2. Jason Dickinson (16) carried in, dropped it off to Miro Heiskanen (4). Notably, both Ryan and Melker Karlsson (68) converged on Heiskanen. Heiskanen returned the puck to Dickinson, resulting in a 2-on-0 on Martin Jones.

One of Ryan or Karlsson needed to hang back on Heiskanen; Jones might’ve had a fighting chance on a 2-on-1.

Coincidence or not, this second period shift was Ryan’s last of the contest.

These waves of breakdowns weren’t reserved just for Dallas goals.

Here, Blake Comeau (15) stripped Burns from behind. But that mistake was not the tipping point:

Between Burns and Joonas Donskoi (27), neither took Comeau in the slot. In a game full of Grade-A’s, Jones was again forced to make a difficult save. This was probably more on Burns, because Donskoi has to concern himself with watching the left point (Esa Lindell).

Anyway, it’s just one game. But these are the margins between losing and winning for every Shark to improve.