Sharks

Sharks down 'Hawks in 'playoff-type' game

Sharks down 'Hawks in 'playoff-type' game

SAN JOSE – Glancing at the Sharks’ upcoming schedule for the next few weeks, there aren’t a whole lot of games against legitimate contenders on the horizon. Sandwiched around the late-February bye week are meetings with plenty of non-playoff opponents and others that may be in position, but are nothing more than pretenders or first round fodder.

Facing the Blackhawks in the first game coming out of the All-Star break, though, kicking off the unofficial beginning of the push to the playoffs, had a big game feel to it. Finding a way to win the rubber match of the three-game season series against the three-time recent champs would be the perfect way for the Sharks to remind the league, and perhaps themselves, that they’re still primed to challenge for a Stanley Cup.

A goal from their hottest player, Patrick Marleau, along with a late score by Tomas Hertl and a characteristic solid performance from goalie Martin Jones helped the Sharks to a 3-1 win in an entertaining and energetic Tuesday night tilt at SAP Center.

“Winning is always a good thing, especially against that team,” said Jones, who made 24 saves. “It’s always fun playing those guys. They get your attention [because] they’re so good. It’s always a tough game against them. It’s always a lot of fun.”

It’s only fun if you win, of course, and Hertl’s goal with just 2:03 to go in regulation was the key moment. In what was just his second game back since he missed 32 straight with a right knee injury that required surgery, Hertl got to the front of the net and slipped in a loose puck off of Corey Crawford to break a 1-1 tie.

The plan is for the 23-year-old to return to the center position at some point, but for now, he’s still getting his legs under him on the left wing of the top line. It was his first goal since Oct. 27, and it was huge.

“I’m happy I score because it was a long time, like three months,” Hertl said. “It was a big [celebration] for me.”

Joe Pavelski, who had three points including a late empty net goal, said: “It’s going to take a few games, but he’s jumped right in [and] he’s made an impact. It’s definitely big for our team.”

Marleau’s goal opened the scoring with less than six minutes to go in the second period. He seemingly gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead earlier in the frame, but Mikkel Boedker was offside just before the puck was brought into the offensive zone. 

He had an idea it was coming back.

“When I looked over at the bench they were all whispering there. … When I saw that, I went over there and had an idea,” Marleau said.

No matter. Marleau got to the front of the net on a Sharks power play, and corralled a rebound off of Crawford’s chest before flipping it through. It was career goal number 499, but more importantly, it was Marleau’s sixth goal in the last four games.

Logan Couture said: “The puck finds him when he’s in a groove like this. He’s so streaky, and he’s going to find the back of the net. We just have to keep giving him the puck.”

"Patty's been excellent,” Pete DeBoer said. “Best hockey I've seen him play since I've been here. He's just got to keep going."

The Sharks jumped back into first place in the Pacific all alone, and considering their weak schedule, they have a real chance to put some distance between themselves and their division opponents before the start of the bye week on Feb. 20. 

While they won’t face any other truly elite teams until March, the win over Chicago at this stage of the season with both teams fully rested is an encouraging sign for a club that expects to be there at the end.

“That's a playoff-type atmosphere, that's a playoff-type game,” DeBoer said. “There wasn't a lot of room. Both teams were playing hard. Both teams were fresh and skating. That's as close to a playoff game in the regular season as you can get."

Sharks 'just weren't good enough' vs. Coyotes in first loss of 2019

Sharks 'just weren't good enough' vs. Coyotes in first loss of 2019

You have to hand it to the Sharks, they put on quite the show to kick off 2019. They’ve shown incredible growth since the start of the season, and battled through a jam-packed schedule to defeat some difficult teams and put together a stellar winning streak in the process.

That in of itself probably makes their first loss of the new year -- a 6-3 defeat at the hands of the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night -- a letdown.

“We just weren’t good enough,” Sharks forward Logan Couture told the media in Arizona, “and it’s tough because we were on such a nice run.”

The Sharks were, in fact, shooting for their eighth win in a row. They had just beaten the Pittsburgh Penguins the night before, in arguably one of their most complete 60-minute efforts this season. Playing a lower-level team like the Coyotes afterward can, of course, result in a little bit of a letdown.

However, the Sharks had yet to fall into that trap in 2019, defeating the lowly Los Angeles Kings after a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Ottawa Senators two nights after beating the Vegas Golden Knights. This is a team that, clearly, knows not to overlook lesser competition.

But even knowing the difficulties such a game can present, the Sharks had trouble early against the Coyotes.

“We knew coming in that we had to get our emotional level back engaged again after last night,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer acknowledged. “We didn’t do it quickly enough or for long enough.”

[RELATED: Sharks GM says trade deadline deals must strike right balance]

It didn’t help either that San Jose was playing Arizona on the tail end of yet another back-to-back. All three times these teams have met this season have been on the second night of a Sharks back-to-back. The Coyotes, on the other hand, were well-rested after losing to the Calgary Flames on Sunday.

That extra time showed on Wednesday. 

“You have to give [Arizona] credit,” DeBoer continued. “They were rested, and they played with a lot of energy and won a lot of battles.” 

San Jose has battles of their own to fight, and no time to dwell on the end of a season-long winning streak. The Sharks entered Wednesday just one point behind the Calgary Flames in the Pacific Division, but fell back another point after the Flames lost to the Buffalo Sabres in overtime.

Plus, they'll have another emotionally-charged game coming up on Saturday when they travel to Tampa Bay for a rematch with the Lightning. San Jose’s already beaten the Bolts once before, and a loss to the Coyotes shouldn’t deter them from thinking they can do it again.

“We’re not happy about this loss, but we’ve got to keep doing what we’ve done before,” Timo Meier said. “We’ve done some good things, we’ve played some great hockey. We’ve got to continue.”

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in streak-ending 6-3 loss to Coyotes

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AP

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in streak-ending 6-3 loss to Coyotes

BOX SCORE

All good things must come to an end. Yes, even the Sharks' winning streak. 

San Jose made things interesting Wednesday night in the desert against the Arizona Coyotes. Evander Kane stayed hot, Kevin Labanc got off the schneid, and Logan Couture got a late power-play goal to keep it close. But the Sharks came up just a little bit short, falling 6-3 to the Desert Dogs.

Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s game:

You have to give the Coyotes some credit

Arizona may be occupying the cellar of the Pacific Division, but that didn’t mean San Jose could come into their house and steal a victory uncontested. The Coyotes played a smart game on Wednesday night, jumping on the Sharks when they showed signs of getting tired and not giving them a ton of room to build up momentum.

This is something we’ve seen from San Jose’s opponents since they got hot at the start of December. Even teams who aren’t as good as the Sharks – like the Ottawa Senators and Wednesday’s opponent, the Coyotes – have turned up the heat against San Jose.

[RELATED: Doug Wilson says Sharks' moves at trade deadline must strike right balance]

Aaron Dell’s performance

Yes, Dell should have stopped Lawson Crouse's game-open goal. But after that he really settled in, even bailing out a couple of his teammates before the first 20 minutes expired. His most impressive saves occurred later in the game.

The first, with a little over five minutes left in the second stanza when he froze Richard Panik with a magnificent glove save.

Then, there was the third-period stop when he kicked Vinnie Hinostroza’s chance out of the way.

Dell didn’t have as much help in front of him. San Jose was playing on the second night of a back-to-back – why are they always playing Arizona on the tail end of a back-to-back – with travel. That’s in addition to playing a tough game against the Pittsburgh Penguins the night before. The Sharks didn’t look their sharpest, but Dell, who hadn’t played the night before, did his best to keep his team in it.

It’s almost time for Timo Time, right?

This has been a subject of Twitter chatter for a few games now. Timo Meier has now gone a career-high 16 games without scoring. In the last few contests, his level of play has really come up a notch as he tries to snap the drought. And that’s saying something, because if you have watched Meier play this season, you know he’s a player who doesn’t sit back on his heels.

On Wednesday in Arizona, he led all Sharks’ skaters with seven shots on goal. Make no mistake, Meier is primed to break out. Heck, getting a goal or two on Saturday in Tampa Bay against the Lightning would be a nice way to bust his slump.