Sharks stonewalled at home, fall 1-0 to Sabres


Sharks stonewalled at home, fall 1-0 to Sabres


SAN JOSE Its an unfamiliar situation for the San Jose Sharks to be fighting and clawing to stay in the top eight in March.

So unfamiliar, in fact, that you have to wonder if the team itself even realizes where it stands after a lackluster, lethargic and languid effort for the first half of a 1-0 shutout loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night at HP Pavilion.

Sure, the Sharks showed up late in the second period and then in the third, even outshooting Buffalo 17-5 over the final 20 minutes. But the fact it took so long, after the shorthanded coaching staff had to juggle its top lines, and against an opponent that was playing in its second of back-to-back games, likely left the 100th consecutive sellout crowd shaking its collective head as it filed out of the arena.

Drew Stafford scored late in the first period and Ryan Miller made it hold up, and the fading Sharks will have gone more than a month without back-to-back wins by the time they host the dangerous St. Louis Blues on Saturday.

We definitely poured it on, said Joe Thornton of the third period. You want it for 60 minutes, but Miller is a world-class goalie. Whatever he sees he usually stops, and I dont think we had enough traffic in front of him tonight.

You obviously want to control the momentum for all 60, but I dont think its going to happen. Its just how you recover from when you lose the momentum, Brent Burns said.

The Sharks finally awoke towards the end of the second after generating few prime scoring chances through the first half of the game. By then, Miller was settled in and confident.

Matt Shaw, once again filling in for a concussed Todd McLellan, said: I thought we started slow in the first period, got better in the second, and then really played well in the third. At that point Miller was feeling it, and we really struggled to beat him.

They didnt beat him at all, in fact, despite plenty of late chances. The Sharks reunited top line of Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski had long stretches in the Sabres zone looking for the equalizer in the final frame. During one lengthy shift in the offensive zone, Miller stopped Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic wrist shots, able to track the puck through traffic.

Later, TJ Galiardi led a three-on-one rush up the ice after Antti Niemi held the fort in front of the net on the other end during a scramble in front. Galiardi tried feeding Daniel Winnik at the last second, but Millers poke check prevented a shot on goal.

With 7:38 to go in the third, Miller was shaken up after getting plowed into by teammate Patrick Kaleta. He eventually got to his feet to finish off his fifth shutout of the year, turning away all 39 Sharks shots.

Obviously hes a great goalie, and one of the best for a reason, Burns said.

The Sharks havent won consecutively since Jan. 31 Feb. 2, and blew an opportunity to retake the Pacific Division lead after the Phoenix Coyotes lost to Calgary earlier in the night.

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Buffalo took a 1-0 lead on Staffords goal. After a soft neutral zone giveaway by Burns, Tyler Ennis skated the puck into the Sharks zone. Ennis found Stafford to his right, and Staffords blast from the faceoff circle deflected off of Niemi and in at 18:51.

Despite the turnover, Burns was one of the more effective players for the Sharks throughout the night, including drawing a holding call on Ville Leino late in the second period. The Sharks failed to take advantage of that opportunity to tie it before the intermission, though.

Thats hockey. Its a mistake. What do you do? You get by it, Burns said of the turnover. I think when you play a little bit more of an aggressive style, you push it. Its going to happen.

Shaw said: A low scoring game you always look at the one mistake. He played excellent, you have to give him a lot of credit for that.

Ryane Clowe, who scored the only goal in Tuesdays 1-0 win over the Flyers, had a pair of good chances early in each of the first two periods. A charging Clowe was stopped on the doorstep just 1:18 into the game on a pass from Thornton, and Miller got his glove on Clowes tip try on a nifty feed from Tommy Wingels about a minute into the second.

Similar chances. One was one my forehand, one was on my backhand, Clowe said. The first one was a good chance, but Miller was kind of over there before I got the puck. I didnt really have much of an opportunity to really put it anywhere, but it was a great play by Joe.

The second one, I felt like I had him beat.

The Sharks nearly tied it on the power play late in the second with Leino in the box.

Miller misplayed the puck in front of his own net, and Clowe tried sliding it in from the slot. Miller made the save and managed to deny Thorntons rebound attempts in front, aided by the net coming off of its moorings while the puck was still loose.

San Jose was once again without leading goal scorer Logan Couture, still suffering the effects from an apparent knee injury suffered on Sunday in Minnesota. The Sharks did welcome back newcomer Dominic Moore, though. The recent acquisition from Tampa Bay played in just his third game as a Shark and first at home after missing four games with a lower body injury. Moore skated as the third line center between Galiardi and Torrey Mitchell to start the game.

The Sharks fell to 33-23-7, and remain in seventh place in the West. We didnt get any points. Its a step back for us, said Thornton.

There isn't much room behind them.

Odds and ends: Antti Niemi stopped 18 of 19 shots. ... The Sharks were 0-for-2 on the power play and killed off all three Sabres power plays. ... Todd McLellan missed his second game with a concussion. Douglas Murray remains out with a fractured Adams apple. Andrew Desjardins and Benn Ferriero were the scratches for San Jose. ... Buffalo is 5-0-2 in its last seven games.

Young Sharks fitting in, not neccessarily standing out


Young Sharks fitting in, not neccessarily standing out


The message for the San Jose Sharks’ prospects was quite clear this offseason.

After general manager opted not to re-sign Patrick Marleau, or sign any free agents of consequence, it was readily apparent the Sharks would need to rely on their young players to fill any holes.

Before the quarter mark of the season, that youth movement is underway. Five first or second-year players will suit up at SAP Center Monday night against Anaheim. 

Partially, the infusion is due to injury, as Barclay Goodrow, Melker Karlsson, and Paul Martin are all on the mend. But as the season wears on, the young players’ presence is becoming a necessity. 

Joakim Ryan looks like a natural fit alongside Brent Burns, and the Sharks are a decidedly better puck possession team with him on the ice than when he’s not. Tim Heed leads Sharks defensemen in scoring, and Danny O’Regan assisted San Jose’s lone goal in his season debut on Saturday. 

That assist set up the goal that ended Timo Meier’s drought, and he looks primed to break out: he’s third on the team in five-on-five shots despite playing the ninth-fewest five-on-five minutes this season, according to Corsica Hockey.  Kevin Labanc’s cooled off since his scorching start, but is still tied for sixth on the team in scoring and skated on the top line at Monday’s morning skate, according to the Bay Area News Group’s Curtis Pashelka.

There’s still room for improvement, of course. Labanc and Meier could stand to score more, but the same can be said about most everyone else. Ryan’s made his fair share of mistakes, but Burns has struggled plenty of times alongside him, too. 

So the young players are fitting in, even if all of them aren’t necessarily standing out. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. 

Meier’s the only first-round pick of the lot, but he’s also only been able to legally buy a beer for a month. Ryan and Heed have made the best adjustment, in no small part because they’re the oldest (24 and 26, respectively) of the Barracuda call-ups, and thus have the most professional experience. 

Of course, fitting in isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is, however, far from ideal, when that’s what many other players on the roster are doing. 

Having all of their young players stand out is what will ultimately make the Sharks stand out from the rest of the pack. It hasn’t quite happened yet, and San Jose’s one of 22 teams separated by six points or fewer. 

And if it doesn’t, the middle of the pack is where the Sharks will remain.


Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

For just the second time this season, the San Jose Sharks have lost consecutive games.

It’s the first time since the club opened the season 0-2, and were outscored 9-4. San Jose played much better in Thursday’s loss to Florida and Saturday’s defeat at the hands of Boston than they did to start the campaign, but have now been on the wrong side of four goal reviews.

The Sharks have lost each of the last two games by two goals, so there’s an understandable temptation to chalk these losses up to questionable officiating. Yet even if you disregard the notion that the officials got each call right (which they did), it’s one that must be resisted.

Their actual lack of offense, not a perceived lack of good officiating, is the main culprit behind the losing streak.

Timo Meier’s goal on Saturday stands as San Jose’s lone tally on this three-game homestand. It’s not for a lack of trying: The Sharks pumped 72 shots on net in the last two games, but could not solve Roberto Luongo or Anton Khudobin.

You can blame the officiating in San Jose’s last two losses all you want, but a good offensive team would have converted subsequent chances to make up for the goals taken off the board. The Sharks have not been a good offensive team this season, and could not make up for it.

San Jose’s inability to finish chances has been their main weakness all season, but they were still able to win games thanks to their defense and goaltending. The latter’s lapsed at times over the last two games, and the former let them down on Saturday when Aaron Dell allowed three goals on only 20 shots.

But that, as well as the discussion around the recent officiating, only serves to mask the Sharks’ real issue. San Jose just simply cannot score.

They’ve only scored on 7.41 percent of their shots this season, according to Natural Stat Trick, which is the third-worst rate in the league. There’s too much talent on the roster to expect that to continue all season, but the Sharks faltered offensively down the stretch last season, too.

Plus, they’re relying significantly on players on the wrong side of 30. Brent Burns, 32, hasn’t scored a goal, and Joe Pavelski, 33, is on pace to score fewer than 20 goals.

He hasn’t failed to reach that mark in a decade. At some point, it must be asked: are the Sharks just unlucky, or is age catching up to their star players?

The answer is probably a bit of both. How much of a role either factor has played is up for debate, but that either has led to San Jose’s failure to score goals is not.

Poor officiating is easier to diagnose than a poor offense, but it’s the latter, not the former, that’s responsible for the Sharks’ most recent skid.