CALGARY – Four more games. That’s how much rope the Sharks have left to fix what has become a disastrous two-plus weeks in which they aren’t just losing games, they’re losing them decisively.
Friday night in Calgary, a 5-2 loss, was the latest. Playing against a team that they surely knew would be hungry, as the Flames were trying to officially clinch a playoff berth while hunting them down in the standings, the Sharks again made the kind of mistakes that have plagued them throughout their run of eight regulation losses in nine games.
Take Calgary’s first goal, by Johnny Gaudreau, which came during a two-on-three rush. Those goals didn’t used to go in before, but they seem to happen at least one or twice a night now.
“A lot of times it’s a split second read, or just seems like those split second reads and bounces are going the other way,” said Brent Burns, who allowed Gaudreau to get behind him on the opening goal, which gave the Flames a 1-0 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Sharks’ sudden penchant for allowing goals in bunches is the most confusing part of their precipitous decline. A team that was second in the NHL goals-against with 2.27 per game when the rough stretch began on March 16th has now allowed 3.89 goals-per game over their last nine, winning just once.
On Friday, coach Pete DeBoer not so subtlety indicated that goalie Martin Jones wasn’t on top of his game against the Flames. Jones allowed four goals on 22 shots before he was pulled to start the third.
Of course, the Sharks only scored two themselves, and have just 16 total over the last nine games (1.78 per game). Five of those came against the Rangers, including an overtime score.
“It’s that combination – we’re not finishing for our goalies, and we’re not getting a big save at the right time,” DeBoer said. “That’s a recipe for disaster, I don’t care what league you’re in.”
Jones, too, admitted he could have been better.
“I want to play better, for sure,” Jones said. “I don’t feel like I’m far off. But, we need more big saves.”
The Sharks could have had more than their pair, which came from Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Melker Karlsson. Early on, Joe Thornton’s slap shot from the high slot on a partial breakaway was stopped by Brian Elliott, and in the second Joe Pavelski’s try from the slot was denied by Elliott with Calgary holding a 2-0 edge. Elliott also snagged a third period Kevin Labanc wrist shot, shortly after Karlsson’s goal offered a glimmer of hope.
Pavelski, who sincerely seems to be trying to explain what’s gone wrong in his postgame media availability lately, finished with six shots on goal. He expected at least one of those to go in.
“It really does feel like there's moments every night where it feels like we either…have chances to take the lead, go up by two goals, [or] something like that where we haven't grabbed them right now,” Pavelski said. “I think as one of the leaders on this team that probably starts with me. … Some of the looks I had tonight, you've just got to cash in.”
Earlier in the season, the Sharks were able to cope with not burying their chances with strong defensive play and sufficient goaltending.
Those have suddenly gone missing. The result hasn’t been pretty.
The question becomes, is it all fixable with less than two weeks to go before the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
“Yeah, I think so,” DeBoer said. “I don’t think we’re as bad as the scores indicate. Right now, we’re not scoring, which compounds it. And we’re not getting the right saves, either, as the right time. When you’re not getting a goal and not getting a save at the other end, that’s the kind of score you get.
“That’s where we’re at. That’s our adversity, and we’ve got to fight through that.”