CALGARY – More mistakes, leaky goaltending, and another special teams battle lost all added up the Sharks dropping their eighth game in the last nine against the Flames at the Saddledome on Friday night. Let’s get right to our three takeaways…
1 – Jones gets pulled
It wasn’t all that surprising that coach Pete DeBoer went back to Martin Jones for Friday’s game despite it being a back-to-back situation. The goaltender has had plenty of rest lately, and the meeting with the Flames was an important one. Jones wasn’t to blame for the loss in Edmonton, either, as none of the three goals allowed were his fault.
But against the Flames, Jones struggled. DeBoer made it clear that he thought that at least a couple of the Flames goals “probably shouldn’t have gone in.”
Of course, it’s not like the Sharks have been all that buttoned up in front of their goaltender, whether its Jones or Aaron Dell. On the Flames’ third goal, the eventual game-winner, they couldn’t move the puck up the ice despite several attempts, and ended up with a tired group after Marcus Sorensen’s clearing try was gloved down by Michael Stone. The result was Matt Stajan’s goal that put Calgary ahead 3-1 at the time.
Jones probably could have prevented that one, but everyone on the ice was complicit.
What’s been the biggest issue with the team’s defense, from Jones’ perspective, as the Sharks have allowed 35 in the last nine games?
“I don’t know. We just need to execute better,” said Jones, who is 1-4-0 with a 4.53 goals-against average and .842 save percentage in his last five starts. “Better execution, a little harder to play against in our own end, and we need more big saves.”
2 – Home ice slipping away
As I mentioned on the intermission during yesterday’s broadcast, home ice is shaping up to be particularly important in the Pacific Division. Anaheim is fifth in the league (and second in the Western Conference) with a 26-8-4 home mark, while the Sharks have also been much better at home than last season (24-10-4). The Flames, meanwhile, have now won 10 of their last 12 at the Saddledome, while Edmonton has won its last seven at Rogers Place.
For the Sharks to have home ice in the first round, they have some work to do. They are two points behind the Oilers and three behind the Ducks, each of whom have a game in hand. Edmonton hosts Anaheim on Saturday night.
For his part, DeBoer downplayed the importance of playing at home before Friday’s game.
“I don’t know the answer to that. We’re in the playoffs. There’s some very good teams that aren’t in the playoffs,” he said.
“Whether you start on the road or at home – obviously I’ve talked that you want the easiest path, but at the end of the day you’ve got the 16 best teams in the league. I think we play well on the road. I don’t think at the end of the day that makes a huge difference.”
Playing well on the road, though, isn’t something the Sharks have done well lately. They are 1-7-0 in their last eight road games, including six straight losses, and have been outscored a whopping 30-13 over that span. At this stage, there’s not much reason to believe this team can win a seven-game series if it doesn’t have home ice advantage.
3 – Honest assessment from the captain
The Sharks players are likely getting sick of talking about it. I can’t imagine many of them have gone through this kind of stretch before.
With that in mind, it’s evident that captain Joe Pavelski is trying his best to give an honest assessment of what’s gone wrong. Pavelski spoke for several minutes after the game on just a few questions, and for those of us that have covered him for years, the sincerity in his voice was easy to detect.
“It's been one or two plays,” he said. “Each night it's kind of been a different guy. If I have an off-night, or someone else has an off-night, it catches up with us for whatever reason. It's been burning us. It's frustrating, as a group. It's been frustrating.
“You don't go through stretches like this and you're happy with what you're doing. There's better hockey out there for us.”
Pavelski still believes the Sharks’ game is fixable by the playoffs.
“I believe so, for sure,” he said. “It really does feel like there's moments every night…we haven't grabbed them right now. I think as one of the leaders on this team, that’s probably started with me. There's moments tonight – I have the puck in the slot, some of the looks I had tonight, you've just got to cash in. We're getting outplayed that way. So, fix our game a little bit, and I think it'll all fall [into place].”
Does Pavelski’s bluntness mean anything in the long run? Who knows. But hopefully Sharks fans can appreciate that the team’s leader is not just rattling off a string of clichés.