Sharks beat Stars in shootout

SAN JOSE, CA - DECEMBER 21: Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks is congratulated by teammages after he scored the winning goal in an overtime shoot-out against the Dallas Stars at SAP Center on December 21, 2013 in San Jose, California. The Sharks won the game 3-2. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA – DECEMBER 21: Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks is congratulated by teammages after he scored the winning goal in an overtime shoot-out against the Dallas Stars at SAP Center on December 21, 2013 in San Jose, California. The Sharks won the game 3-2. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

By: Phillip Torres

SAN JOSE-The San Jose Sharks (22-8-6) hosted the Dallas Stars (17-12-6) on Saturday night at the SAP Center in San Jose. This exciting thriller was worth the price of admission as it took a Joe Thornton goal in the fifth round of a shootout to decide the winner. The Sharks came away with the 3-2 victory as they rallied late to earn the W.

San Jose fell behind early as Ray Whitney and Antoine Roussel scored the first two goals in the game to take the early 2-0 advantage. Jason Demers put San Jose on the board at 11 :47 in the second period. Demers slapshot goal was his first goal of the season with assists from Tyler Kennedy and Andrew Desjardins.

Joe Pavelski tied the game up at 2-2 with his 14th foal of the season at 4:24 in the third and final period. Pavelski scored on a nice backhand shot. Thornton and Marc Edouard Vlasic.

Thornton scored the lone goal in the shootout and gave San Jose just its fourth win in December. The Sharks will be back on the ice Monday as they will host the Colorado Avalanche. The puck will drop at 7:30 P.M.

Back Where They Belong: Unchange the Sharks

(Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)
(Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

By Mary Walsh

At the first intermission during the Sharks game Saturday, Jamie Baker said the Sharks seem to be missing something, possibly their mojo. If the Sharks have lost their mojo, it might be buried in Todd McLellan’s higgledy-piggledy line adjustments. It could be time to unchange all those lines.

Or maybe they found their mojo Saturday, in the process of being outshot 46-39 by the Dallas Stars, who average 31.6 shots a game. Maybe the Sharks found their mojo and that is how they survived going down by two goals, made it to a shootout and won 3-2. They won. That is important. But if a 4-2 victory in Toronto foretold of a losing streak to come, it isn’t likely that the Sharks will rest on those Dallas shootout laurels.

The Sharks started the season outstandingly well. To get back to that could be impossible, but to get back to winning more than losing is a reasonable goal. The key is to put the pieces back where they belong and leave them there for at least as long as they have been out of place. That would be nine games or so.

The Sharks’ coaching staff spent a lot of time thinking up forward lines during the off-season and training camp. The lines they started with might have some merit, even if you account for the insertion of players who came and went due to injury. During the ten game experiment the team just completed, only the Hertl-Thornton-Burns and Couture-Marleau connections lasted.

Those were dismantled Saturday against Dallas, beyond replacing the injured Hertl. John McCarthy took Pavelski’s spot as third line center, Pavelski moved to a new line with Thornton and Marleau, and Burns to Couture’s line with Havlat.

Putting McCarthy at center is not wrong per se. He played there in college and also in the AHL. But he’s been in San Jose for most of this season, playing wing. Maybe tossing him back to the middle isn’t the best way to stabilize the team.

When the Sharks started this rough patch after Toronto, San Jose started making line adjustments. Eventually, they made every line adjustment there was to make, until finally Martin Havlat was skating on a fourth line with Andrew Desjardins. The experiment may have provided some as yet unseen benefit to the team, but it certainly didn’t generate many wins.

Obviously, the inquiry into whether or not a pass can connect between Havlat and Desjardins was answered with an unequivocal “no.” But what about all those other adjustments? What about moving Pavelski to the wing? Pavelski is a perfectly capable winger, but moving him away from center punched a hole in one of the team’s most coveted qualities: daunting depth through center.

The decision to sit Tyler Kennedy for a game, then put him back in on the fourth line looked a lot like the path Havlat followed back to the second line. It’s all well and good to make a player watch a game to sort things out, then have him come back in with limited ice time.

Except it really isn’t well and good. Using the fourth line as a gateway back into the game can thoroughly handicap the fourth line if said player is not accustomed to fourth line duty. It’s hard enough for the energy line to do its job with limited ice time and the continuous changing of their membership.

When the rotation included McCarthy, Sheppard and Brown as wingers for Desjardins, at least it was just those four. They could get a feel for each other. Tossing Havlat and Kennedy in there didn’t do them any favors. They have to work fast and hard, they’re not a rehab service for top niners.

It wasn’t ideal for the top niners either. Martin Havlat, before Thursday’s game, was preparing to skate on a line with Couture and Marleau, the third line he’d played on in as many games. Despite playing all over the lineup, did Havlat think his game was becoming more consistent or not?

Not, but like you said, I’ve been all over the place. So we’ll see. I played with these guys half of the year last year at the end and it was great. So we’ll see how it is.

It went pretty well, better than other lines that night. It was the only line to score a goal and finish without a minus by their names. Tyler Kennedy was the only other skater without a minus.

Whether he sees it or not, Havlat’s game has been getting stronger. It may be taking longer than it would if he’d been left consistently with the same line-mates. While his game has suffered along with the team’s, he has at least maintained some defensive equilibrium. McLellan commented on that after the win in St. Louis last Tuesday:

When we look at Marty, I think since he’s been back in the lineup, he’s only been a minus player three nights. That’s pretty darn good. There’s not a lot of other guys that are in that situation. Would we like more offense from him? I think it’s coming.

Havlat isn’t the only player who might profit from a consistent line configuration. Kennedy did better than Havlat on the fourth line. He even got an assist in his second game there. Maybe all he needed was a little more time with his new linemates, a second game?

In Los Angeles, it looked like McLellan was ready to put the old bands back together, with Havlat and Marleau flanking Couture, and Pavelski back at center with Wingels and Sheppard. When Hertl went down, emergency changes had to be made, but otherwise the team was taking a familiar shape again.

Those lines did not win that game, but wins have been scarce for the kaleidoscope of line formations before and since. Those won three of eight games. Perhaps if McLellan gives the old lines a chance to find their footing again the team can reverse this losing trend.

Sharks Need a Quick Reset

By Mary Walsh

The Sharks lost two games in a row. How tedious of them. The Pittsburgh Penguins are having a fine season, so losing to them isn’t something to be completely ashamed of. The Carolina Hurricanes, however, should not have defeated the Sharks 5-3, even if the Sharks’ backup goaltender was in net, even if the Sharks were on the second half of back to back games with travel. The Hurricanes had matching travel issues, and San Jose didn’t give Cam Ward enough work for goaltending to be the difference.

Yes, the Sharks should be thoroughly disappointed with themselves for losing to Carolina, especially after being blown out the game before. How awful to respond to a bad loss by losing again, giving up an early two-goal lead, and being outshot 35-25. Three goals and 30 saves would normally be enough for a Sharks win this season.

Despite all that, it would be unreasonable for anyone to get too excited about that lost pair. The Sharks have a record to be proud of, 19-5-5 on the season and 7-3-0 in their last ten. Still, San Jose has a responsibility to make sure that little pair doesn’t grow up to be a great big panic-inducing streak of losses.

To that end, the Sharks made some roster moves. Matt Pelech, who didn’t play on the road trip, was sent to Worcester, while Matt Nieto and Freddie Hamilton have been called up. Mike Brown was placed on injured reserve, for injuries initially described as almost negligible.

Who will sit now? The switching of  Joe Pavelski and Andrew Desjardins at the end of the last two games could indicate that the coaching staff will focus their adjustments on the bottom six. Pavelski always seems like an unlikely candidate for the press box. Tyler Kennedy’s minutes have been slipping. Will he sit? Was that line juggling a demotion of both Kennedy and Havlat to the fourth line? Will they both sit? Or will Hamilton, a center, be in for Desjardins? Will Nieto or Hamilton replace McCarthy, he of the two penalties in Pittsburgh? Would any of that be enough?

The problem in both losses was defense. Not defensemen per se, but this creeping habit the Sharks have of giving up goals in bunches. In Toronto and Pittsburgh, the leak seemed to be confined to the second period. San Jose patched that, only to see the Hurricanes tear open a four-goal breach in the third. It is hard to see exactly how those failures can be solved by changes to the third and fourth lines. There isn’t a lot you can do when you are not on the ice.

On his first stint with San Jose, Nieto played on the top line. If McLellan really wants to mix things up, the lines may look nothing like they did in these last three games, and the winning streak that preceded them. It sounds like overkill to throw all of the forward lines into flux over two measly losses, but waiting to see how bad it can get isn’t a good plan either.

The team’s best hope won’t be found in the defensive instincts of two call-ups. Even if they are perfect, they can’t compensate for a team-wide meltdown. A change to the lineup might focus the team, make them more cautious and attentive to communication and execution. The refreshed, reset Sharks’ mantra has been speed. That is all well and good, but if you are heading into a wall, you don’t want to get there faster. It might be time for the Sharks to slow down, at least mentally.

Blackhawks Embarass Sharks, Hand San Jose Toughest Loss of the Season

By Matthew Harrington

The San Jose Sharks were downed by the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks 5-1 Sunday evening at the United Center, suffering their worst defeat of the season. Patrick Sharp had 3 points (2 goals, 1 assist) while Brandon Pirri and Kris Versteeg notched a goal and an assist each. Joe Pavelski scored the lone goal for the Sharks who saw a three-game win-streak snapped with the loss.

Chicago opened up the scoring in the first period when a Patrick Kane shot deflected off Scott Hannon’s leg. The puck landed on Brandon Pirri’s stick and he fired it past an out-of-position Antti Niemi with 3:26 remaining in the first for the 1-0 lead.

Pavelski evened the score 8:16 into the second period when what appeared to be a harmless wrist shot popped out of Corey Crawford’s glove and trickled in to the back of the net. Tyler Kennedy and Justin Braun were credited with the assists. Crawford would go on to turn away the rest of the Sharks shots, making 23 saves in the game.

Patrick Sharp scored the game-winner just 3:58 after Pavelski’s tally, cashing in on a Marcus Kruger one-timer feed to beat Niemi. Niemi made 22 saves on 27 shots.

Jonathan Toews and Kris Versteeg, who made his first appearance back in a Blackhawk jersey following a trade with the Florida Thursday, added third period scores. Sharp finished the scoring with a penalty shot goal with 1:11 left in the game after Marc-Edouard Vlasic hooked him on the original breakaway attempt.
The Sharks faced a 27-24 shot deficit. San Jose failed to score a power play goal on two opportunities, while the Sharks foiled the Blackhawks on their lone chance.

The Sharks will have a few days to dwell on the loss. They return home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning at the SAP Center for a Thursday night contest.