Sharks Lose 5-4 to Hurricanes

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.

Troy Grosenick Steals One for the Sharks

By Mary Walsh

Sunday’s 2-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes was one of the more compelling games the Sharks have played this season. It was not high-scoring and the Sharks did not outplay their opponent, except in goal. It was Troy Grosenick who made the 2-0 win exciting. He finished his NHL debut with a 45 save shut out. He even had to make one of those saves with Tyler Kennedy’s stick. He was a man on a mission.

After the game, Grosenick said:

It’s kind of a dream come true. It’s kind of like… just like you write it up when you’re a little kid. The guys played great in front of me, I saw so many pucks, not too many difficult ones.

At the other end, Anton Khudobin only faced 19 shots. It was an unusual way to welcome a goalie to the NHL, unless letting him steal a game was the Sharks’ plan. From Todd McLellan’s post game comments, no, that was not their plan:

A lot of guys score in their first games. Did we expect a shutout and 45 shots? No but he played extremely well and we certainly believed he could do that. So to get a young man like that to come in and steal us a game, when we didn’t have our A game yet, I thought as the night wore on we wanted to do it more and more for him and we improved.

All’s well that ends well.

Grosenick was called up last week when Alex Stalock had a knee procedure that will keep him out at least for a few games, but it was not assumed he would start a game.

The Carolina Hurricanes presented a different kind of challenge for the Sharks. They had a very poor start to the season, and suffered a lot of injuries to key players early. Their record so far is lousy but their recent record is much better. Their roster is getting healthy and they are playing well. So they might have looked like an underpowered opponent but they are more capable than that. With the backup to their backup in net, Matt Nieto and Scott Hannan out, the Sharks had some pressure from within if the Hurricanes did not offer enough inspiration.

None of that seemed to help much, as the Sharks started as slowly as ever. Their rookie goaltender had to keep the Sharks in it while his team was outshot 12-3 through the first 15 minutes. Part of that time was spent on the penalty kill but the Sharks did not look much better at even strength.

That penalty was a hooking call to Joe Pavelski at 18:03. It gave Grosenick a chance to get in the game, as he had to make a few saves in quick succession. He looked confident and composed. The Sharks had to kill another penalty, this one to Jason Demers in the last four minutes of the period. The Sharks’ penalty kill featured two different short-handed chances, one from Adam Burish and one from Patrick Marleau backed up by Mirco Mueller.

The pressure they started to generate on that kill outlasted the penalty, when Tomas Hertl gave the Sharks the lead. He took advantage of a miscue by the Hurricanes in the Sharks’ zone, escaping into the neutral zone with the puck. Hertl went in two on one with Joe Thornton with only Carolina’s Andrej Sekera back. Hertl tried to get the puck to Thornton but it hit Sekera. The puck came back within Hertl’s reach as all three skaters converged at the blue paint, so Hertl poked it under goalie Anton Khudobin. The assist went to Barclay Goodrow.

The shots by the end of the first were 16-5 for the Hurricanes.

At 12:08 of the second, the Sharks went on the power play after Barclay Goodrow drew a hooking penalty from Brad Malone. Despite a couple of good chances, the Sharks only got a few shots through the Carolina penalty kill. Khudobin stopped those.

At the end of the period, Grosenick had a chance to really show off when the Sharks got trapped in their zone and several shots came at the Sharks goaltender, rapid fire through traffic. The last shot was at a nearly empty net but Grosenick got across with just enough of his glove to stop it. (Click on that link to see the video of that sequence)

The period ended with the Hurricanes still leading in shots 31-14, 15-9 for the period.

The Hurricanes did not let up during the third period, and the Sharks only managed five more shots. No penalties were called, few stoppages gave relief to the tired teams. Until Joe Thornton broke away in the final seconds to shoot at the empty net, the shutout looked very uncertain.

Six Sharks got credit for two shots, none had more. Marc-Edouard Vlasic led the team in ice time with 23:22, while Justin Braun led the team with six hits. The Sharks power play was 0/1 while their penalty kill was 2/2.

Nathan Gerbe led the Hurricanes (and all skaters) with seven shots. Three Hurricanes got credit for three hits each, John-Michael Liles, Elias Lindholm and Brett Bellemore. Andrej Sekera led his team in ice time with 27:07.

In the faceoff circle, the Hurricanes beat the Sharks 34-24.

The Sharks next games is against the Sabres in Buffalo, on Tuesday at 4:30 PT.