By Matthew T.F. Harrington
SAN JOSE, Calif. –True to recent form, a poor start once again took a bite out of the San Jose Sharks chances for a win Tuesday night at SAP Center. The Sharks (7-8-0) allowed two goals to the New York Islanders in the opening five minutes and never managed to dig themselves out of the quick hole they found themselves in, falling 4-2. Joel Ward and Brent Burns tallied the Sharks goals, while Alex Stalock made 20 saves in a relief appearance. Perennial Hart Trophy candidate John Tavares netted a pair of goals to lead the Islanders (8-5-3) to victory.
“We wanted to get a better start and it just didn’t happen,” said Sharks Captain Joe Pavelski after the game. “A bad bounce or bad change, it happens. You’ve got to fight through it.”
San Jose has now lost 7 of 9 games this season when allowing the opponent to score first. The Sharks scored first in their first 5 games of the season, but have yet to score first in consecutive games since. Over the last 10 games, the Sharks netted the first goal only twice. Their record over the last ten games now stands at 3-7-0.
Sharks starting goalie Martin Jones’ night ended after facing just three shots. San Jose coach Peter DeBoer had seen enough from Jones and opted to pull his netminder for Alex Stalock after goals from John Tavares and Mikhail Grabovski in the first 3:30 of play.
“We need a momentum change,” said Jones. “Alex stepped in the last couple games and played great. It’s no fun being pulled but I’m not surprised.”
“You’ve always got to be ready,” said Stalock. “That’s the job of a back-up, injury or change of pace.”
The Islanders captain Tavares struck the opening blow on a rebound of a Brock Nelson shot, the first two shots of the game, at the 36 second mark. Three minutes later, Grabovski managed to turn a defensive zone faceoff into a rush up ice and a wrist shot for his third goal of the season.
“You can give up a bad goal in this league and recover,” said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. “You can’t give up two goals and expect to win.”
Joel Ward regained a stake of the team lead in goals in the second period on a piece of strong forechecking against Travis Hamonic. Ward lifted Hamonic’s stick along the boards, picking the Islander’s pocket before power to the net. The veteran beat former Shark Thomas Greiss in the crease for his 8th goal of the season at the 10:14 mark of the period.
“We got within one, which gives us a chance,” said Pavelski. “But we want to be playing with the lead.”
Despite only cutting the deficit in half, the Sharks second period performance gave plenty of hope to fans and coaches alike. San Jose outshot the Islanders 14-6 in the frame, drawing the 16,558 fans in attendance to a standing ovation following one specific spectacular shift.
All the momentum built up from a strong second was zapped from the building with another quick strike to open the third. Isles defenseman Johnny Boychuk scored his second goal in as many games, rocketing one of his patented slap shots past Stalock clean for a 3-1 lead 45 seconds into the final frame of regulation.
“I thought it was going to hit my pads,” said Stalock. “It’s a bad feeling when you have no sensation of a puck.”
Brent Burns made the game interesting late, taking a Thomas Hertl pass from behind Greiss and slicing it past Greiss pad for his 5th goal of the season with 5:11 left to play. Despite an offensive surge for the Sharks, Greiss managed to hold on for the win following his 34 save effort. John Tavares added an empty net goal to ice the win for New York.
With the Sharks going 1-3 on a recent homestand, they’ll be looking forward to the road. They’ve fared much better away from SAP (4-3) than at home. They’ll open a six-game road trip with back-to-back contests in Detroit Friday night and a meeting with Jack Eichel’s Buffalo Sabres Saturday afternoon. The six city trip will also make stops in Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Columbus.
Notes: The Sharks had one power play on Tuesday and failed to score, running the streak to 21 straight power plays at home without a goal. They have yet to score on the man advantage at home this season…Melker Karlsson returned to action with the Sharks, playing almost 16 minutes and registering 3 shots on goal while primarily playing on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. On having Karlsson return to the line-up DeBoer said: “I thought he was good. First game in a long time. You can see that he’s an NHL player. He can help us”.…The loss puts the Sharks below .500 for the first time all season.