AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
By Mary Walsh
SAN JOSE– Saturday, the San Jose Sharks fell to yet another non-playoff team. This time they lost 5-3 to the Carolina Hurricanes who came into San Jose 18 points out of a playoff spot. They left San Jose a little closer, but still out of the running. This after the Sharks defeated the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 just last Thursday. The game winner was scored in the final two minutes of the third period, by Victor Rask. Carolina netminder Cam Ward made 23 saves on 27 shots for the win.
Why do the Sharks have so much trouble beating teams they should beat? Logan Couture tried to answer it, not for the first time:
We’re an inconsistent team. That comes with youth I think, although tonight our younger players played very well. We’re an inconsistent team this year. We’re going to need to fix that going forward.
As Couture said in a previous postgame interview, if they knew why they do that, they might stop doing it.
Tomas Hertl scored two of the Sharks’ four goals. His resurgence and a very good game from Chris Tierney might not have been expected by all but were no surprise to Couture and teammates:
They’re good players, you expect them to go out and score. So it’s really not a surprise when they go out and score. That’s what they’re expected to do as well. For us to be successful, we’re going to need everyone to go out and produce offense on different nights. So we weren’t surprised by seeing them score.
The Sharks lineup faced a few challenges Saturday night. Not only were they facing a non-playoff team (their Achilles heel this season) but they were also missing a season high of key players: Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and Tommy Wingels. Braun and Wingels are both on IR, while Vlasic was a last-minute scratch with what the team has called an upper body injury. Of all these, the low ranking of the Sharks’ opponent was probably the biggest hurdle to overcome.
Carolina came out swinging for the net and had three shots on goal in the first two minutes. In the third minute, the Hurricanes’ Ron Hainsey took a hooking penalty. The Sharks’ power play featured a few good chances for the Sharks, and a very good shift for Tomas Hertl. He looked more confident and assertive than he has looked in a while, both in front of the net and along the boards.
Most of the Sharks’ power play shots were blocked by Hurricanes, and after five minutes the shots were 6-2 Carolina. Niemi was facing a lot of good chances. Six and a half minutes in, Matt Tennyson went to the box for high-sticking. The Sharks killed the penalty off and during the second half of the first they gained some ground on the shot clock.
Just as the announcer was calling out “One minute left to play,” a wide shot from Jiri Tlusty came off the boards for Eric Staal to push in behind Niemi’s skate blade before the Sharks goaltender could close the gap. Assists went to Tlusty and Jordan Staal.
The Hurricanes finished the period ahead by one goal and five shots.
Where the first goal was a little fluky, the second goal of the game was not. It was the product of a very nice pass from Alex Semin to Andrej Nestrasil, and some inattention from the Sharks. Nestrasil skated between Hertl and Sheppard before he shot the puck over Niemi’s right shoulder. Assists went to Semin and Andrej Sekera. The 23 year old Czech was claimed by the Hurricanes on November 20 after the Detroit Red Wings waived him. It was his second goal of his NHL career.
The Sharks finally got on the board when Chris Tierney chased the puck around behind the net and sent it back out in front to Hertl. Hertl put the puck past Cam Ward without hesitation. Assists went to Tierney and Andrew Desjardins.
The Sharks went from that goal to killing a hooking penalty to Matt Nieto. The Carolina power play did not last long. Justin Faulk deked at the blue line to put Pavelksi out of position, then gave the puck to Elias Lindholm, who shot through a screen of Mirco Mueller and Jiri Tlusty to make it 3-1.
At 12:53, Tomas Hertl went to the box to serve a too many men on the ice penalty to the Sharks. The Sharks killed that off but seconds later were back on the penalty kill when Barclay Goodrow went to the box for roughing against
This time the Sharks showed more creativity with their penalty kill, challenging the Hurricanes and keeping them from getting set up as they had several times before.
The first really good attack from the Sharks came from the line of Tierney, Hertl and Sheppard in the last minute of the period. They mustered several shots and maintained possession in the offensive zone for a good long shift.
The Sharks came out for the third with some grit. It took them a couple of minutes but after a couple of shots and a lot of tenacity, the Tierney-Hertl combination paid off again. This time it came by way of a Scott Hannan shot from the blue line, caught and shot in by Hertl. Assists went to Hannan and Tierney, bringing the Sharks back within one goal.
The tying goal came from a quick spin shot by Logan Couture off a pass from Matt Tennyson, just 82 seconds after Hertl’s second goal.
Melker Karlsson was hit by a puck and went to the dressing room. He was back before the period ended but was gone long enough to give fans a scare.
Carolina’s fourth goal went in off of Brenden Dillon’s skate. Niemi stopped the initial shot, but the rebound hit Dillon. The goal was given to Justin Faulk.
The Sharks pulled Niemi with just under two minutes left. It took the Hurricanes two tries but they managed to put the puck in the empty net.
The Sharks got one back in the final minute, with the goalie pulled. Patrick Marleau’s wrist shot fond its way through, with assists going to Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl. That made for an exciting last minute, but the game ended 5-4 Carolina.
Couture summed up the game fairly well, talking about that fourth Carolina goal:
It’s tough, I mean, I don’t know if we deserved to be in it at that point in the game, but we found a way to get back. It’s tough to get a bounce like that with four minutes left. You kind of get what you deserve though, it’s kind of the way this game works.
Scott Hannan led the Sharks in shots with five, and in shots blocked with four. According to the stat sheet, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau were the only Sharks with more than one hit, and they only had two each. Brent Burns led the team in ice time by a hefty margin, at 25:25. Antti Niemi made 25 saves on 29 shots faced.
Eric Staal led the Hurricanes in shots with five. Tim Gleason led the team in hits with five. Justin Faulk led in blocked shots (3) and ice time (23:06). Cam Ward made 23 saves on 27 shots faced.
The Sharks next play at home against the Calgary Flames, on Monday at 7:30 PT.