By Mary Walsh
SAN JOSE– The San Jose Sharks lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday, by a score of 5-2. The loss was badly timed, right in the middle of a tight divisional race . But as losses go this season, it was not one of the Sharks’ worst. Brent Burns and Logan Couture scored the Sharks’ two goals. The game winner was scored by Tampa Bay’ Ondrej Palat, a back breaker of a goal only ten seconds into the third period. Antti Niemi made 28 saves on 32 shots for the Sharks while Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop made 33 saves on 35 shots for the win.
Tampa Bay came into San Jose ranked second in the Atlantic Division, with Detroit just two points behind them with a couple of games in hand. The Sharks were second in the Pacific Division, with Vancouver just one point behind with a couple of games in hand. It was a game that was set up to be close and in some ways it was, but not on the score sheet.
Logan Couture expressed how frustrating losses like this are for the Sharks:
The mistakes we’re making are things that we work on, things that we do in practice, things that we watch on video. I mean nobody’s going to be perfect in a hockey game but when you’re constantly making the same mistakes every single night that’s when you need to take a look in the mirror, you know, wonder what you’re bringing, if you’re mentally prepared every night, if you know what you’re supposed to do.
Todd McLellan had a more layered assessment of the team’s performance:
We thought we did some good things tonight, but not enough of them. That’s probably what Cooch is talking about. There were moments where details got away from us and you don’t beat first place teams like that. You have to be alert all the time. A couple of the goals were, in particular the third one, a bounce off skates but we win a draw and seven seconds later it’s in the net. That’s a tough pill to swallow.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic was back in the lineup. That good news merited a front page mention in the game preview at NHL.com. After the game, the media spoke with both Vlasic and Burns, but neither had such harsh words as Couture shared with us.
Vlasic saw some positives in the Sharks’ game, while acknowledging that they cannot give up five goals and expect a win: “Even in the third we had some good looks too. The first two periods were really good, it’s too bad we didn’t come out with the lead.”
Burns said: “It’s the game of hockey. There’s mistakes on every goal. I think we played pretty hard. I think it’s going to happen, it’s a game of mistakes.”
The Sharks were not very sharp to start the game. It showed in little bounces, just-missed passes, a sign that their timing and focus was off by just enough to thwart clean zone entries or exits. Plagued as they were by such miscues, it was like a boon when Joe Pavelski finally caught a puck in his skates at the Tampa Bay blue line. Instead of getting a scoring chance, he was hauled away from the puck and Ryan Callahan went to the box for hooking.
The Sharks power play was as frustrating as their even strength play. One shot seemed to rim around the net opening, as if touching all three bars before bouncing back out. The Sharks did not look like a team that was not trying. If anything, they looked like a team trying too hard and playing tense.
Past the half way mark of the period, this puck luck seemed to change. The change was signaled when Joe Thornton won an offensive zone faceoff, then made a clean pass across the ice, though his stick was outstretched in one hand. It looked so awkward but was so precise. Sharks passes started connecting, they started intercepting Tampa Bay passes and getting a little lucky with bounces.
None of this resulted in a goal for the Sharks. On the contrary, Steven Stamkos scored at 19:44 of the period to give the Lightning the lead. During a delayed penalty, his shot deflected off of Tommy Wingels’ stick. Assists went to Anton Stralman and Valtteri Filppula. By the end of the first, the teams were almost tied on the shot clock with the count 12-11 Sharks.
At 7:12 of the second, another fit of failure to control the puck left the Sharks trapped in their own zone. Marleau, Couture and Nieto, with Hannan and Dillon, could not clear the puck and Tampa Bay made them pay. The goal was scored by Andrew Killorn from the slot, where he had a moment to pick a corner and beat Niemi. Assists went to Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman.
The forward line of Chris Tierney, Tommy Wingels and Tomas Hertl came out after the goal and had a couple of good shots but could not score. A couple of line changes later, the Couture line came out and cut the lead in half. From below the goal line, Matt Nieto found Couture high in the slot and wide open.
At 10:57 Patrick Marleau went to the box for delay of game. The Sharks penalty kill was so effective that one could only complain that they could not get a good short-handed rush going.
The Sharks held their own for the rest of the period and in the last minute they hurled the puck at the net at least half a dozen times in a row but could not make any more progress on the scoreboard.
The third period started less well. Right off the faceoff, Tampa Bay pushed into the Sharks’ zone and made a beeline for the net. Ondrej Palat added to the Lightning lead only ten seconds into the period.
To their credit, the Sharks went the other way after the next faceoff and spent a good long shift attacking the Tampa Bay net. It took the Lightning over a minute to get back in the Sharks zone.
Melker Karlsson drew an interference penalty, being sent head first into his own net at by Jonathan Drouin at 3:36. The Sharks power play was not as formidable as their penalty kill had been and it ended without a San Jose shot on goal.
They had another chance on the power play at 10:26, a high-sticking call on Nikita Kucherov. The Sharks’ third power play started better than their second. They held the zone nicely, were just ejected the one time by a tired crew of penalty killers. On their second tour in the offensive zone, the Sharks looked almost trapped along the left wall with three of them playing catch around Lightning defenders. Finally, Patrick Marleau shot the puck hard at the net and found the stick of Brent Burns for a deflection. The Sharks were back within one.
It did not last long. Cedric Paquette and Valtteri Filppula outmaneuvered the Sharks at their blue line and Paquette took a quick shot from the top of the circle. The puck went over Niemi’s shoulder and in to give the Lightning their two goal lead back.
McLellan pulled Niemi for an extra skater almost immediately, with over three minutes left in the game. It did not take long for Callahan to take advantage of that and give the Lightning a three goal lead. The Sharks spent the rest of the period mostly in their own zone. A brief scuffle in front of the net sent Jonathan Drouin and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to the box for roughing at 19:19.
Brent Burns led the Sharks in shots with seven (though Marleau was right behind him with six.) Tommy Wingels led the team in hits with six.
The Sharks play their next game on the road in Nashville against the league-leading Nashville Predators on Tuesday. Their next home game will be a home game in name only, as it will be played Saturday at Levi’s Stadium.