NEW YORK – When Brent Burns cut the Rangers’ lead to 3-2 midway through the third period, the opportunity was there for San Jose – which hadn’t played all that well to that point – to try and steal one or maybe even two points against New York.
Instead, they fell asleep. Kevin Hayes got behind Burns three minutes later and tapped in a dish from Jesper Fast, and on the next shift Chris Tierney was forced into a turnover in the defensive zone and Justin Braun was caught in no man’s land in front of the net as Jimmy Vesey put the blueshirts up, 5-2.
Although the Sharks responded with a pair of scores to make things interesting, getting to within 5-4 with 4:29 to go, the mistakes were just too numerous to overcome in what was San Jose’s first loss of the season (2-1-0). A pair of empty netters made it a 7-4 final.
“They got some easy ones tonight,” said Burns, who had two goals and an assist.
Joe Pavelski, who had a four-point night, said: “We weren’t good enough. We were chasing it a little bit too much. Every time we fought back to get it close, something just kind of broke down.”
Coach Pete DeBoer was critical of the Sharks’ compete level, after he termed Saturday’s 3-2 victory in Columbus to kick off the five-game road trip as a “sloppy” win.
“We got what we deserved tonight,” DeBoer said. “You’ve got to win all kinds of different ways. It would have been nice to pick up some points and hang around, but I think the team that competed the hardest won tonight. That’s how it should be.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks fall to Rangers, suffer first loss of season]
If there was one positive to take from the night it’s that the Sharks did manage to hang around despite their blunders and their energy level. Logan Couture’s power play score late in the first period, for example, allowed them to escape a frame in which they got outplayed tied at 1-1.
At that point, and a few others throughout the night, DeBoer was hopeful that the Sharks would locate their A-game.
“There was a bunch of different times during the game I was hoping we would grab some momentum and carry it forward, but we just couldn’t get it going,” he said.
Instead of building off of Couture’s score, the Sharks left Rick Nash all alone in front of the net to slip a rebound off of the end boards through Jones’ pads at 4:15 of the second. The Rangers never trailed after that.
Paul Martin said: “I think we got out of position a couple times. We got running around a little bit instead of being patient and waiting for the play to come to us at times.”
Even New York’s first of two empty net goals, by Mats Zuccarello, was much too simple to execute. Goalie Martin Jones bolted towards the bench before San Jose got the puck in deep, and the speedy Rangers forward easily flung it into the vacated cage to seal the win.
Considering how rarely the Sharks made the kinds of errors they did in the second half of last season and in the playoffs, there’s reason to believe that the lack of practice time due to the World Cup and the early road trip is catching up with them. No one would use that as an excuse, of course.
Martin said: “All the guys in here have played together before and know how we play, so I don’t think it’s something would alter our game or the way we play drastically.”
They’ll need to fix their game quickly as they head into the first back-to-back of the season on Tuesday in Brooklyn, likely in front of first-year goalie Aaron Dell, who would be making his NHL debut.
The captain and the coach know where to start.
“We weren’t on the inside enough,” Pavelski said. “That’s something we need to focus on for tomorrow.”
DeBoer said: “We were on the outside all night. To their credit, they were the harder team. That usually results in success. That doesn’t happen to us too often, and the nice thing is we get to bounce back tomorrow.”