Photo credit: nhl.com/avalanche
By Matthew Harrington
The search for consistency continues for the San Jose Sharks after they failed to build on a 6-2 victory over the Avalanche Monday, falling to the same Colorado side 4-0 Wednesday evening at home. Philipp Grubauer made 26 saves for his 3rd shutout of the season and Mikko Rantanen scored twice and picked up for points, Gabriel Landeskog had a goal and three assists and Samuel Girard scored for the Avs (12-7-1). Nathan MacKinnon didn’t return after taking a hit from Sharks rookie Joachim Blichfeld late in the third that earned the winger an ejection. For the Sharks (8-10-2), another chance to win back-to-back games slipped away.
“It’s disappointing right now any time you lose,” said Sharks goalie Martin Jones when asked about his thoughts on standing toe-to-toe with one of the league’s best for five periods of the two-game series. “We could play with those guys, we could play with anybody when we play a certain way. It’s just wrapping our heads around playing a certain way. Guys just have to do it.”
One could argue that this was the first game the Sharks dearly missed the impact of Tomas Hertl, one of the team’s top centers on the shelf after a positive COVID-19 test last Wednesday. Sure, he could have made a difference in Saturday’s gong show against St. Louis, but the team managed six goals without him. In Monday’s contest, the faceoff stats weren’t great for the team, but overall it was the Sharks’ best performance of the year. But on Wednesday the Sharks were still in the game, trailing 2-0 before the five-minute power play from Blichfeld’s penalty. Hertl’s ability to control play in the offensive end could have helped the Sharks break through, but his impact in the faceoff dot is what really hurts.
Trailing 1-0 already on a faceoff draw, Landeskog batted the puck toward Brent Burns on the halfwall, a faceoff loss for Logan Couture and the Sharks (They won 39.6 % of draws). Burns tried to knock the puck up to Kevin Labanc, but instead Rantanen picked it up and fed Girard at the point. Girard’s point blast beat Jones, hit iron and went in for a 2-0 Avs lead 5:29 into the third. For Girard, half of his four goals this year have come in the last two games against San Jose.
“We’ve played some pretty good faceoff teams,” said Jones. “(Hertl’s) obviously an important centerman for us. It’s tough to get the puck. Anytime you can start with the puck it, that’s going to make life a little easier.”
The Sharks still were a couple strong shifts away from working their way back into the game when Blichfeld, making his NHL season debut after a strong AHL start, hit MacKinnon with the shoulder in the chest and head area as he neared the Sharks bench 8:08 into the third period. He was assessed a match penalty for intent to injure and MacKinnon left the game, but the Avs went on a five-minute power play.
The penalty kill did well, limiting Colorado to just one goal on a Landeskog rebound putback just 15 seconds into the power play, but the Avs outshot the Sharks 18-10 in the final frame after leading in SOGs 20-16 after two. Rantanen buried the dagger wrap-around goal with 5:26 left in regulation.
Rantanen scored the first goal of the game late in the second, but otherwise Martin Jones was sharp in net through two, making 19 saves against a potent Avalanche lineup.
“We did enough to keep the game close,” said Sharks coach Bob Boughner. “Win a period, win the game kind of attitude. We couldn’t get it done in the third period.”
Next up, the Sharks will welcome the Vegas Golden Knights in a back-to-back homeset starting Friday night at SAP Center.
Notes: Nikolai Knyzhov was paired with Erik Karlsson on defense…Joachim Blichfeld was making his season debut with the Sharks after picking up nine points in six games with the AHL Barracuda….The Sharks had to Danes in the lineup with Blichfeld and center Alexander True both on the fourth line…The Sharks haven’t had a faceoff percentage higher than 45% in the three games Hertl has missed and haven’t won the faceoff battle since a February 11th loss to the Los Angeles Kings.