By Ivan Makarov
This time of the year with two months remaining in the NHL regular season, all games are important for those still fighting for playoff spots. But even then, some games matter more than the others, especially those that are played in the same division. Such was the case on Monday, when San Jose Sharks faced Calgary Flames – a team that was only two points behind in the standings.
But it was Calgary Flames who looked like a better team for most of the night, and they were the ones who left the arena with two more points for the standings, as they defeated the Sharks 4-1.
Sharks gave up the first two goals in the game. The first one was scored by Mason Raymond on a fast breakaway. Sharks’ forward Tomas Hertl attempted to keep up with the play and skated back as the pick was advancing up the ice, but he was out there on a long shift, and when puck was in front of him, he did not attempt to block it, looking too tired to make the last play. The second goal was another defensive lapse by the young Mirco Mueller who couldn’t prevent Lance Bouma from scoring on a rebound off the Mark Giordano’s shot that went off Antti Niemi’s pad. Mueller’s skill level might not be enough for the NHL right now, but Sharks don’t have too many options with Marc Eduard Vlasic and Justin Braun injured, so the young rookie has to play.
With three seconds remaining in the second period, Sharks got a face-off inside the Flames zone after icing was called on the play. Joe Thornton won the pace off and the puck bounced out to Brent Burns on the blue line. Mindful of the clock, Burns shot it hard on the next. It wasn’t the prettiest shot, as puck seem to have been flying on a strange trajectory, but it went into the top corner, making it 2-1. Sharks were desperate for a goal, and going into the third period with a one goal deficit is easier than two goals.
But the Flames went on to increase their lead at 5:28 mark in the third period. Their third goal came on a power play, with Brent Burns in the box for roughing. Jiri Hudler shot the puck into the net from between the two face-off circles as Sharks failed to cover him and let him shoot wide open. The goal gave the Flames two goal lead once again.
The Flames went into the defensive mode from then on, and did not allow too many scoring chances for the Sharks for remainder of the game, even when Sharks were on a power play with six minutes left in the game or when playing with an extra man (instead allowing an empty net goal with full two minutes still remaining on the clock). The visiting team seemed to have controlled the puck better for most of the game, and skated harder. Sharks forwards struggled to put together the same quality of passes, and were shaky on defense, giving away odd man rushes, and not clearing rebounds. The special teams disappointed again, going 0-3 on the power play, and allowing the Flames to score a key goal on their own.
After beating LA Kings, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks only won once in the following five games. While the playoffs spot looked solid at the start of February, it is now coming into question, given recent results and overall lack of good play from the Sharks.