SAN JOSE – More than once, coach Pete DeBoer has remarked that the target on the Sharks’ back this season is a tangible thing. After advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, teams league-wide will approach their games with San Jose at full tilt to see how they measure up with the defending Western Conference champs.
Teams like the Flames, who are young and supposed to be on the upswing. They got a pair of goals from rookie Matthew Tkachuk in beating the Sharks at SAP Center on Thursday night, 3-2, in what surely will be considered an uplifting victory as they attempt to return to the postseason.
Had the Sharks been engaged from the start, Calgary could have been buried early. Just 20 seconds in, the Flames were caught with too many men on the ice. At 3:10, it was Alex Chiasson going off for interference. Brett Kulak’s high-sticking of Joonas Donskoi at 11:05 gave San Jose a third advantage.
But instead of making the Flames pay, the Sharks’ overall malaise reared its ugly head on the power play, too, and they went into the dressing room in a scoreless tie.
“You get three power plays the first 10 minutes, you want to score one of those, for sure,” Brent Burns said. “But, we didn’t play very good at the start.”
DeBoer said: "[The power plays] looked like our first period, in general. We had no hits, we had zero five-on-five chances, and that carried into our power play. Our entire game was off. There's no excuse for that."
The Sharks were jolted to life in the second thanks in part to some line changes by DeBoer, and despite falling behind 2-0, fought back to tie the game in the third. But with the margin of error so slim just one breakdown can spell doom, and that’s what happened on Tkachuk’s game-winner with 4:21 to go.
The 18-year-old was left untouched from the neutral zone to the front of the net, as both Burns and Mikkel Boedker passed up opportunities to hinder his progress or nullify his stick.
“Just [the] wrong read, probably. Obviously,” Burns said. “Guy gets a breakaway, so…”
Had San Jose been ready to go at the outset, it might never have gotten to that point.
DeBoer said: “We had one breakdown coming back into the zone. That's not the reason we lost. We lost because of a lack of a 60-minute commitment by everybody."
The loss was the Sharks' second straight, giving them a middling 6-5-0 record. The performance Thursday was even more perplexing in that the Sharks saw on Tuesday in Arizona what just one brief lapse can do. They dominated the first period against the Coyotes, but didn’t seem all that interested in keeping the pressure turned up in the second. They lost, 3-2.
Makes you wonder if DeBoer’s “target on our back” message has gotten through to everyone yet. Indications are that it hasn't.
"If they don't [understand the message], we're getting a lesson in that pretty much nightly here,” DeBoer said. “The desperation level of the teams we're playing is very high, and ours is high for stages of the game, but not for 60 minutes. This is a league where if you don't play desperate for 60 minutes you're really limiting your opportunities to win, and I think that's where we're at right now."
Joe Pavelski said: "Target or not, I think our work ethic can go up a little bit. There's moments where it's good. Not calling anyone out, by any means, but it's just on a nightly basis. It's everybody. … When that hard work goes away it makes it a little tougher, but I think we can do a little better job, at times.”