By Mary Walsh
ST PAUL- Sunday afternoon, the Sharks’ losing streak grew to three with a 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild. Two second-period goals were scored by Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. Wild goaltender Josh Harding made 37 saves. The Sharks finally scored at the end of the game with their net empty. That goal was scored by Patrick Marleau with just over a minute left in regulation. Instead of going on to tie the game, the Sharks gave up an empty-net goal, Zach Parise’s second of the game.
During pre-game, Drew Remenda asked Sharks defenseman Justin Braun what the defense needed to do to get the team back on track. Braun’s answer was straightforward:
We’ve got to get the puck up to the forwards’ hands as fast as possible, we can’t be slow tonight.
The Sharks did get credit for a lot of shots in the game, the forwards did have the puck a lot. They were rarely trapped in their own zone, but their play in the offensive zone was hampered by a determined Minnesota defense.
Matt Nieto, back from the AHL, led the Sharks in shots with six, while Patrick Marleau and Brent Burns led the team in hits with three each. The Sharks’ game went from uninspired in the first period to discombobulated in the third.
As expected, Todd McLellan made several changes to the Sharks’ lineup for the Sunday afternoon game in Minnesota. Joe Pavelski was moved to the right wing on a line with Couture and Marleau. Martin Havlat sat, possibly due to injury from a blocked shot in the previous game. John McCarthy also sat, while Matt Nieto took a spot on a line with Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels. Freddie Hamilton was slotted in at center on a line with James Sheppard and Tyler Kennedy. Both Jason Demers and Matt Irwin played, with Scott Hannan sitting out. Irwin was paired with Dan Boyle while Demers was with Brad Stuart, putting Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun back together. The only line that was untouched was the Thornton line with Brent Burns and Tomas Hertl.
The first period could be called tentative. The Sharks outshot the Wild, and the Sharks had one power play after Charlie Coyle was called for holding the stick. It was as tepid a period as could be without a lot of stoppages. There was little indication that the lineup changes had energized the team. Luckily for San Jose, Minnesota wasn’t much more lively. The period ended scoreless, with the shots 11-5.
The Sharks came out with more energy in the second period, but those second period problems are starting to look like a curse more than a habit. With only 2 shots on goal, the Wild had a 2-0 lead. The Sharks were unlucky with a non-call when Minnesota’s Zach Parise knocked the stick from Justin Braun’s hands. Seconds later, Parise scored off the rebound of a shot made easier by Braun being stickless.
A bad line change from the Sharks followed, leaving two Sharks to defend a three man rush that became a four on two before reinforcements could arrive. As mistakes go, that was a bad one and it put the Sharks down 2-0.
The Sharks were not able to make any of their 21 shots pay off. Joe Pavelski and Justin Braun each had chances one on one with Wild goaltender Josh Harding, but they couldn’t beat him.
Probably the best Sharks chance of the period came on a short-handed attack from Matt Nieto, who was almost more that two Wild defenders and Harding could handle. He had a couple of shots in close before they fended him off.
The second period ended 2-0 Minnesota, with the shots at 32-11. The Sharks also finished the period a man down, as Brad Stuart was in the box for holding the stick, though it was hard to say whose stick he held or when.
The Sharks started the third still on the penlty kill. Joe Pavelski and Andrew Desjardins had a good 2 on 1 shorthanded chance to end the kill, but Desjardins couldn’t make the shot. A good backcheck from Minnesota and a quick slide by Harding cut down his options.
The Sharks only managed 5 shots in the first half of the third, though the Wild still had none. Nino Niederreiter took a high-sticking penalty about six minutes in, but the Sharks power play still couldn’t score.
In all, the Sharks’ power play went 0-4, their penalty kill 2-0. Antii Niemi made 10 saves on 12 shots.
The three stars of the game were: 1st: Josh Harding, 2nd: Mikko Koivu with one goal on one shot, and 3rd: Torrey Mitchell with two shots.