By Mary Walsh
The San Jose Sharks started a five game road trip with a 5-4 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan summed up the good and the bad of Sunday’s game:
That was much better. Not everybody that watched tonight’s game got to see what we did against Vancouver, which was poor. So we made strides as far as competitiveness, I still don’t think we were at our best. Thought we looked slow, especially to retrieve pucks. They’re a very quick team and they exposed some of our speed issues in certain areas that we have to get better. The goals they scored, we’d sure like to have a couple of them back but full marks to them.
The Sharks will need to polish their shootout skills. Unlike last season, when they had exceptional results in shootouts, now they have scored only three times in five shootouts, and won only once. McLellan acknowledged this in the post game interview:
We practice it probably too much now. We created a whole bunch of different situations in practice, we’ve gone through different guys, they’ve got to score. There isn’t magic, you’ve got to beat the goaltender. Right now there’s too much pressure on Niemi in a shootout to be perfect. I don’t know what we are now, we’ve tried different guys, the only one who’s scored this year is [Couture.] So we’ve got to find a way.
With a shortage of shootout specialists since the Spring purge of 2013, San Jose will need a few more shooters to come forward.
Seven times this season, the Sharks have scored in the first two minutes of the game. They did not do so Sunday in Winnipeg. Instead, the Sharks took a penalty. While Sharks defenseman Scott Hannan sat in the box for high-sticking Devin Setoguchi, the Sharks’ penalty kill went to work against the 29th ranked power play in the NHL. Penalty killed off, the Jets continued to attack. The Sharks didn’t have a shot on goal until six minutes had elapsed in the period. By the 13 minute mark, the Jets had outshot the Sharks 10-2.
Moments later, Jets Captain Andrew Ladd went to the box for tripping Sharks’ defenseman Dan Boyle. It took Boyle 14 seconds to score with a blast from the slot. During a CSN intermission interview, Boyle credited Joe Pavelski with clearing the lane for him, while Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau got in front of Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.
The audience went quiet. They stayed quiet as Tomas Hertl burst across the Jets blue line moments later. Jason Demers’ pass from the Sharks zone was perfectly timed to hit Hertl just shy of Jets territory. It was a great pass and a good shot, modest enough to offend no one while still scoring.
Jets Head Coach Claude Noel responded by calling a time out. He used it well. The Jets continued to lead the Sharks by a wide margin in shots and zone time. During the last minute of the period, Evander Kane went to the box for goaltender interference and put the Sharks back on the power play. The period ended with the Jets challenging short-handed.
The Sharks had a two goal lead but by every other measure, they were being out-played. By the end of the period, the shot count was 15-9 for Winnipeg.
The Sharks started the second period on the power play. The Sharks had a few good chances but did not score. The Jets went back to work, but the Sharks pushed back quickly, showing more confidence and accuracy with their passes, giving Pavelec more work.
The Jets caught a break when a Matt Irwin shot was blocked and then taken away by Matt Halischuk, who carried the puck in. Halischuk’s pass came late enough to look like he would shoot, and Frolik got by Dan Boyle to put the Jets on the board from the other side of the net.
The audience had barely finished cheering when Tommy Wingels responded with a quick shot over Pavelec’s shoulder. Braun cleared the puck off the boards and it hit Wingels just as he crossed the line. The Jets couldn’t stop him. The goal came 41 seconds after Frolik’s.
It took the Jets a minute and 20 seconds to answer with another goal, this one from Dustin Byfuglien (his first of the year) on the blue line. The Sharks left him briefly uncovered with a clear lane for his shot all the way to the net.
At 12:21, Devin Setoguchi earned a power play for the Jets, an intereference call on Hannan. The Jets’ power play didn’t tie the game for them, but five minutes later, a shot from Grant Clitsome bounced off Justin Braun and past Niemi’s glove to tie the game.
In the final second of the middle period, Dustin Byfuglien shot the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. The Sharks escaped the second without giving up the lead, and would start the third on the power play.
That power play was underwhelming. The second unit’s strategy through the neutral zone failed twice as they shot the puck in from the red line. Jets got to the puck first and sent it back out before all five Sharks were in the zone.
The Sharks had another chance at 3:19 when Halischuk went to the box for tripping Tyler Kennedy. San Jose’s first power play unit of Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Boyle, and Couture took 40 seconds to score.
Logan Couture, lurking by the side of the net, took a pass from Joe Thornton and sent the puck through his legs behind him, where Boyle found it and put it in the net. Had Boyle not succeeded, Joe Pavelski was nearby as well. It was a beautiful play.
At 11:05 of the third, a bizarre series of penalties cycled through a 5 on 4 SJ, to a 4 on 4, to a 4 on 3 WPG, back to 4 on 4 and to 5 on 4 SJ. The numbers changed so quickly, it didn’t seem to matter who had more men on the ice, the play went back and forth throughout the sequence.
The teams didn’t slow down once they were back at even strength. The back and forth play went down to the last minutes, when Todd McLellan used his time out. The Jets appeared to benefit more from the break than the Sharks did. They won the next faceoff in the offensive zone and Ladd tied the game two shots later.
Two minutes into overtime, Tommy Wingels was involved in his second discounted goal of the season. Wingels, positioned in front of goaltender Pavelec, lost the shoving match and ended up too close to Pavelec. The goal that followed seconds later was disallowed for goaltender interference. McLellan commented on the call after the game:
If you’re a Shark you’re questioning it, if you’re a Jet you agree with the call. It’s a discretionary call that occurs in a game. He was allowed to make the first save easily, it’s the second one, it’s the rebound and I don’t know who has the right to that ice, I don’t understand it. But we move on.
The Sharks were not penalized further on the play, and the game went to a shootout.
The Jets shot first, with Andrew Ladd shooting third for Winnipeg and scoring the shootout winner. He skated in and lifted the puck from what appeared to be an impossibly close angle. Niemi saved the first two shots from Blake Wheeler and Brian Little. The Sharks’ shooters were Logan Couture (save), Tommy Wingels (miss), and Dan Boyle (save).
Final shot count: 46-34 Winnipeg. The Sharks’ power play went 2-6, their penalty kill was 2-2.
The scratches were Brad Stuart and John McCarthy. That put Matt Irwin in as Dan Boyle’s partner, and left Mike Brown on the fourth line.
The Sharks’ next game is Tuesday in Calgary at 6:00 pm PST.