Poor start dooms Sharks in another road loss


Poor start dooms Sharks in another road loss

RALEIGH If any further proof was needed that an NHL team cant play just 20 minutes and win, look no further than the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Sharks match against the worst team in the Eastern Conference, Carolina, on Friday night.

Check that the team that's now tied for worst, as the Hurricanes beat the Sharks 3-2 at the RBC Center to gain two points and match Buffalo's total of just 55 this season.

Carolina jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead, only to surrender it in the third thanks to goals from Dan Boyle and Brent Burns. But Jussi Jokinens deflection in the high slot with 8:05 remaining in regulation sent the Sharks to their fifth loss in the last seven games (2-4-1).

We obviously would have liked to come out a lot better than we did instead of starting down 0-2, said Patrick Marleau.

Marleau actually had a couple great chances to tie it late. His wrist shot from the circle with 2:15 was denied by Justin Peters, though, and the Hurricanes rarely used backup did the splits to deny Marleau once again with about a minute left and goaltender Thomas Greiss pulled for an extra attacker. Marleau gloved an airborne puck at the side of the net and quickly placed it on the ice, but that gave Peters just enough time to do the splits and make an impressive pad save.

It was the start, though, that did the Sharks in.

I thought we lacked a lot of energy and jump and determination in the first two periods, Todd McLellan said. We didnt win a lot of races to pucks. We didnt establish body position around them. They were bigger and stronger than we were, quite frankly.

Then, all of a sudden in the third period, we found it. Its a little disappointing. I thought if we were going to fade we were going to fade in the third period due to fatigue, but that desperation has to be there earlier.

McLellan is referring in part to San Jose having a kink thrown into its travel plans late on Thursday night after a 6-5 overtime loss in Tampa Bay. The Sharks were unable to fly out that night as originally planned, instead arriving in Raleigh the day of the game around 11:00 a.m.

The team was naturally not going to use that as an excuse, though, and lost for the third time in four games on its season-long nine-game road trip (1-2-1). The Sharks are just 6-7-5 in their last 18 road games.

After those two generally lethargic periods, a goal by Boyle brought the Sharks to life early in the third. After San Jose brought the puck into the offensive zone, it pinballed around a bit among the Hurricanes defensemen and popped out to Boyle in the high slot. Boyles low wrister through traffic got through Peters at 1:26.

I was just trying to put it to the net for a rebound and it snuck its way through, Boyle said.

Newcomer Dominic Moore wasted no time in making an impact by setting up the tying goal by Burns less than three minutes later. Moore originally fed Ryane Clowe for a shot in front of the net that was stopped by Peters, and the puck bounced behind the net. Moore stayed with it and sent a backhand to Burns for a one-timer at 3:52 to make it a 2-2 game.

The game-winning goal came at 11:55 of the third, when Jokinen deflected a hard slap shot from the point by Jamie McBain.

We were actually in real good position. The guy had the stick out above us and it was hard to get control of that, McLellan said.

In fact, none of the three goals the Hurricanes scored could be placed on the shoulders of Greiss, who made 22 saves and lost for the first time since Dec. 3 vs. Florida (4-1-1).

First, a hard forechecking Hurricanes team forced Boyle into a turnover behind the net. The puck ended up on the stick of Jeff Skinner, who was parallel with the goal line, but slid a hard, low shot towards the net that bounced in off of Boyles skate at 7:31.

Another fluky goal, said Boyle, who accidentally scored on Thomas Greiss back on Feb. 2, as well.

A power play goal at 10:34 made it a two-goal cushion. Jamie McGinn went off for a retaliatory roughing penalty, leading to the man advantage. Carolina showed good puck movement and the result was a slam-dunk goal for Justin Faulk on a pass through the slot by Jiri Tlusty in which Greiss was defenseless.

Otherwise, Greiss was solid.

In fact, McLellan left open the possibility he could start on Sunday in Detroit, saying: Well have to sit down and determine who starts next, but that wont happen tonight.

Regular starter Antti Niemi has been hot and cold in the past month, hitting a low point with his performance against the Lightning on Thursday.

Peters, making his first start since Jan. 7 at Nashville and just third this season, had 35 saves.

Moore, acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday started as the third line center in place of Michal Handzus, who was bumped to the fourth line, between McGinn and Torrey Mitchell before McLellan started drastically shuffling his bottom three lines in the second period.

Weve got to be real happy with his play, McLellan said of Moore.

As for the line shuffling: We didnt have much going, so we decided to start flipping guys around.

It seemed to work in the third, but it was too little too late. Now, San Jose will try to avoid its third straight defeat at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday afternoon, where the Red Wings have won an NHL record 22 straight games with their 2-1 win over Nashville on Friday.

It sucks losing three out of four, and now we go into a hot building in Detroit, where it doesnt get any easier, Joe Thornton said.

Odds and ends: Brad Winchester and Andrew Desjardins were the scratches for the Sharks, while Jim Vandermeer returned in place of Douglas Murray, who sat out after taking a puck to the throat on Thursday. Jason Demers remained out with a lower body injury. The Sharks won 39 of 71 faceoffs. Tommy Wingels, Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic had a team-high five shots apiece. Carolina had 18 blocked shots to the Sharks 10.

Sharks have tall task avoiding holiday hangover in Vegas


Sharks have tall task avoiding holiday hangover in Vegas

Once they entered the league, many joked that the Vegas Golden Knights would have the best home-ice advantage in the league.

Sure, the novelty of a new team would get fans excited, but it was the team’s presence on the Las Vegas Strip that would give the expansion team an edge. After all, they call it “Sin City” for a reason, and it’s not for the ride in.

Nobody could have expected them to be this good at home.

The Golden Knights are 8-1-0 at T-Mobile Arena, and have the league’s highest winning percentage at home. They’ve outscored opponents by 18 goals, and their 4.33 goals per home game is the third-best mark in the entire league.

The Sharks will thus face their toughest road test of the season on Friday night, in a game that they’re almost designed to lose. Early afternoon games mean there’s no morning skate, but an early afternoon game the day after Thanksgiving? In Las Vegas?

Blackjack players have better luck hitting on 20.

In fact, Vegas’ home slate is littered with early starts: 12 of their 41 home games occur before the traditional 7-or-7:30 p.m. slot. Some of that is undoubtedly due to travel, of course, as the Sharks will play on the first night of a back-to-back on Friday.

But the effect is nonetheless apparent: T-Mobile Arena has become a fortress.

The same can be said about any number of arenas in cities known for their nightlife, such as the Miami Heat’s home at American Airlines Arena, located less than 10 miles from South Beach. Vegas is another matter entirely.

It doesn’t help that the Golden Knights have, home ice advantage aside, played like a playoff team. Adjusting for score effects and venue, Vegas ranks 13th and ninth, respectively, in the two major puck possession metrics: corsi-for percentage (shot attempts) and fenwick-for percentage (unblocked shot attempts).

They’ve also had luck that gamblers on the strip would envy, thriving despite being down to fourth-string goaltender Maxime Lagace because of injuries to the goalies ahead of him. Vegas has played extremely well in front of him in spite of that, and have won three straight since getting shellacked in Edmonton 10 days ago.

In spite of almost every piece of available logic heading into the season, the Vegas Golden Knights are good. Almost every piece, of course, because their home-ice advantage is simultaneously the most logical thing in the world.

In Las Vegas, it usually doesn’t pay to bet against the house.

Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving


Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving

The San Jose Sharks woke up this Thanksgiving and found themselves in a playoff spot, albeit barely. 

They hold the second and final wild card spot by the thinnest of margins, edging out the Colorado Avalanche not on points, games played, regulation and overtime wins, but a single goal in the goal differential column. 

As early as it is, it’s a critical time to be in playoff position. Since the NHL expanded to 30 teams in 2000, 79 percent of teams holding playoff spots on Thanksgiving made the postseason. 

If the Sharks avoid becoming a member of the dreaded 21 percent, they’ll have two players to thank, more than anyone else, for their good fortune: Logan Couture and Martin Jones. 

Couture, along with Joonas Donskoi, seems to be the only Shark unaffected by a team-wide scoring bug. Even as he’s cooled off slightly, his 11 goals are still tied for 10th-most in the league. 

He’s held a positive share of puck possession on the ice, despite starting the fourth-lowest percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone among Sharks forwards that have played at least 50 minutes this season, according to Corsica Hockey

Couture also leads the team in power play scoring with three goals, and is one of only three San Jose players that’s scored multiple times on the man advantage. It’s hard to imagine the league’s fourth-worst power play (15.1 percent) getting worse, but it undoubtedly would be without the 28-year-old.

While Couture has stood out among a hapless offense, Jones has led one of the league’s best defensive units. The Sharks are among the best teams at limiting shots and scoring chances across all situations, but Jones has not let them down. 

Although his .922 even-strength save percentage is 27th among 51 goalies that have played at least 200 minutes, San Jose’s given him a razor thin margin of error. He had the fifth-lowest goal support of any goalie entering last night, as statistician Darin Stephens noted, and his play has been good enough to keep the Sharks in games in spite of that. 

Jones has also led the way for the league’s best penalty kill, posting a .940 save percentage in shorthanded situations. That’s the best mark among goalies that have faced at least 80 shots on the penalty kill, according to Stephens.

The sustainability of Jones’ penalty kill dominance and Couture’s 20.8 shooting percentage is an open question, but their importance to the team early in the season cannot be overstated. They’ve helped keep the Sharks afloat, and in a playoff spot with history on their side at the critical Thanksgiving mark. 

The Sharks need to not only let them have extra helpings during their holiday feast, but find a way to give them more help on the ice too.