Facing a team above them in the standings for the first time in more than a month, the Sharks were outclassed by the best team in the Western Conference, dropping a 3-1 decision in Minnesota. Here’s what we’re taking away from the game…
1 – Sharks have some work to do
Sure, the Minnesota Wild is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, with a balanced offensive attack, stingy defense and strong special teams. But in a game that was supposed to be a meeting between two of the top teams in the Western Conference, it was surprisingly one-sided in Minnesota’s favor.
The Sharks were fortunate they weren’t down by multiple scores after 40 minutes, as the Wild generated the better of the scoring chances from the opening drop of the puck. Then in the third, when San Jose should have been pressing for the equalizer, it took until two minutes left in regulation before it had an actual chance to tie it courtesy of Chris Tierney.
That the Sharks were still in the game at that point was a minor miracle.
“We knew it would be a tough game in here,” Pete DeBoer told reporters. “They came as advertised. They were very good. We were not as good as them. It was the proper result.”
In fairness to the Sharks, the Wild was very pleased with its effort as Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau called it maybe their best defensive game all season, particularly in the third period, according to the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo.
Still, if the Sharks are going to get to where they want to go, they’ll have to figure out a way to be better than they were against a (fellow?) elite team. Fortunately, we’ll get to see another one shortly, when the league-leading Washington Capitals visit SAP Center on Thursday. If the Sharks – who will likely dress a better lineup – drop that one decisively, it might be time to worry. If they respond with a better effort, perhaps Sunday’s loss to the Wild was just a blip on the radar.
2 – Power play changes remain overdue
It’s time to wonder just what has to happen for the Sharks’ coaching staff to make modifications to the power play units, particularly the top unit. The Sharks have just two power play goals over their last eight games (2-for-20), and since Nov. 1, they are 26-for-166 for a miserable 15.6 percent success rate.
They’re standing still, they’re not getting second chance opportunities, passes are off the mark, and they aren’t winning battles. In a game that was there for the taking on Sunday despite the ice being tilted the wrong way, a power play goal could have helped them to steal at least one point.
“We had our power plays, we didn’t get a lot done on them,” Joe Pavelski told reporters.
DeBoer said: “That’s the kind of night where you’ve got to win the special teams battle, and we didn’t.”
The Sharks will get one of their final two-day breaks between Monday’s game in Winnipeg and Thursday’s at home against Washington. If the power play has another fruitless performance against the Jets, Wednesday’s practice should be all about the man advantage. It’s simply not championship caliber right now, and it hasn’t been since October.
3 – Jones responding to rest
It appears that no Sharks player has benefited more from the bye week than Martin Jones, who was spectacular in a losing performance with 25 saves. He made a number of stops in the early going, before Brent Burns left Zach Parise wide open in front of the net for a power play score. He got a little lucky with that strange neck-hole save on Chris Stewart, but also stopped three breakaway attempts throughout the course of the game.
“He was great,” Pavelski said of his goalie. “He made some huge saves, and it wasn’t our best game.”
The goalie called it a “good, hard, playoff-style game tonight.”
Jones, if you recall, saw his save percentage decline month-to-month from November to before the bye week in late February when he was overworked. In three starts since the break, though, he’s stopped 80 of 84 shots (.952 save percentage).