Sharks

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 3-2 shootout loss vs. Hurricanes

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AP

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 3-2 shootout loss vs. Hurricanes

BOX SCORE

There’s nothing like some fireworks to kick off a tough road trip.

The Sharks and Hurricanes might only see each other twice a season, but boy did things get heated between the two teams in their second and final meeting of the 2019-20 campaign Thursday night at PNC Arena. It was a fast-paced and entertaining matchup all the way through overtime. In the end, San Jose got only one point after Carolina prevailed 3-2 in the shootout, but there were a lot of good things that came out of this one.

Here are three takeaways from Thursday's exciting game:

Thornton ruffles some feathers

Joe Thornton has come up in conversation a bit lately, but mostly because he hasn't produced much over the first two months of the season. But Jumbo Joe has gotten back to what he does best -- setting up goals -- which he has done in three of the last five games. Against the Hurricanes, he looked like his vintage self, and even responded in kind when Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek slashed him late in the second period. 

[RELATED: Watch Jumbo send 'Canes goalie to ice with forearm shiver]

Thornton was the leader of the Sharks' third line Thursday, which was easily the team's best. His work setting up Marcus Sorensen for San Jose's first-period goal was especially impressive, as he displayed great patience in setting his young linemate up with Hurricanes skaters pressuring. Not only was the assist a beauty, but it also brought Thornton within four helpers of tying Adam Oates for seventh on the NHL's all-time list. 

Dell bounces back

Dell was coming off a couple of rough outings, but in his first start since Nov. 27, he put up a strong performance in Raleigh.

After giving up the first goal of the game within the opening minute, Dell really settled in and had a good handle on the Canes’ offense. He was very strong at the start of the second period when Carolina came out with a ton of energy and generated plenty of grade-A chances. But perhaps his best came on a third-period penalty kill to keep the game tied up 2-2. 

Or maybe his saves in overtime were better. Really, he put some great tape together.

Karlsson keeps it going

The Sharks are paying Erik Karlsson to be one of their best players, and he was exactly that against the Hurricanes.

The defenseman has been heating up over the last couple of weeks, and on Thursday he looked downright elite. His work on both ends of the ice was superb, and he set up some of the Sharks' best plays of the game. His incredible work setting up Logan Couture's game-tying goal in the second period was the cherry on top of his highlight-reel performance.

NHL.com snubs Sharks-Golden Knights Game 7 as best game of 2010s

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USATSI

NHL.com snubs Sharks-Golden Knights Game 7 as best game of 2010s

NHL.com named a Game 7 ending 5-4 and involving a three-goal comeback, two division rivals and an overtime winner as the best game of the 2010s.

It just wasn't the one with the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights. 

NHL.com and NHL.com International staff members chose the Boston Bruins' Game 7 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference first-round series during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the game of the decade. In a 9:18 span, the Bruins erased a 4-1 deficit to force overtime and Patrice Bergeron scored the winner 6:05 into the extra frame. 

An epic comeback in a game between two "Original Six" rivals is, on paper, worthy of the crown. But Sharks-Golden Knights is more deserving. 

For one, San Jose and Vegas were much closer in terms of quality than Boston and Toronto. Yes, the Golden Knights jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the 2019 Western Conference first-round series and fewer standings points separated the Bruins and Maple Leafs (five) than the Sharks and Knights (eight). However, the 2013 Maple Leafs greatly benefited from the lockout-shortened 48 game schedule, making the playoffs despite being the NHL's worst puck-possession team.

The Sharks and Golden Knights, on the other hand, were both legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Both finished the regular season in the NHL's top three in terms of shot share and shot quality. Had Vegas beaten San Jose, it's likely the expansion franchise would have played in a second Western Conference final in as many years. 

What unfolded on the ice in the third period in Boston doesn't hold a candle to the third period in San Jose last April. Then-captain Joe Pavelski's head bled as the result of a fluky collision with Golden Knights forwards Paul Stastny and Cody Eakin, leading to a highly disputed five-minute major penalty. The Sharks then matched an NHL record with four power-play goals on the non-releasable penalty, nearly blowing the roof off SAP Center. 

A 3-0 deficit turned into a 4-3 lead, but the Sharks couldn't escape regulation with a win. Then-Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant pulled goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and iced six forwards when Jonathan Marchessault scored the game-tying goal with 47 seconds remaining in the third period. That set up an overtime that lasted nearly 20 minutes before Barclay Goodrow sent San Jose to the second round, and the Sharks' win left the Golden Knights with a summer of animosity that made Vegas' decision to replace Gallant with fired San Jose coach Peter DeBoer so much more shocking. 

[RELATED: How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip]

To recap: Game 7 of Sharks-Golden Knights included one of the most controversial (or worst, if you ask Golden Knights fans) calls in NHL history, a historic power play that sent the SAP Center crowd into delirium, a game-tying goal that silenced the same crowd not even six minutes later and nearly a full period of extra hockey. 

By comparison, the twists and turns of Bruins-Maple Leafs seem rather straightforward. 

How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip

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USATSI

How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip

That is not how the Sharks wanted to enter the All-Star break.

Coming off consecutive wins over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars, San Jose had a chance to reach the unofficial midway point of the regular season riding a massive wave of momentum, perhaps large enough to carry the team back to the postseason. All that sat between the Sharks and that development was a crucial three-game road trip against Western Conference foes.

At the very least, San Jose needed to keep its head above water. Instead, the Sharks drowned in disaster.

Facing the Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks -- all teams San Jose potentially would have to leapfrog to make the playoffs -- the Sharks reverted back to kind of performances that put them in such a deep hole in the first place.

San Jose was outscored 14-4 and outshot 117-73 over the course of the three games. Those two stats obviously are interconnected, but Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner pointed to another area of failure as a big reason for his team's struggles.

"The big difference this road trip is we've been horrible in the faceoff circle," Boughner said following the 4-1 loss in Vancouver on Saturday night. "You're never starting with the puck. Even in the offensive zone, you're chasing, and you can't chase pucks all night. That limits your possessions and tires you out."

Boughner's correct. The Sharks were thoroughly dominated in the faceoff circle over the course of the road trip, which might have had something to do with them scoring only one goal over its final six periods of play. San Jose won only 45.1 percent of the draws against the Coyotes, 45.6 percent against the Avalanche and only 38.0 percent against the Canucks.

It's only the third time this season the Sharks have won fewer than 49.0 percent of the draws in three straight games, and the most recent instance also coincided with a three-game losing streak. Whether it's shooting, scoring or simply gaining possession of the puck, Boughner is hoping the All-Star break will provide the Sharks with the needed respite to address their shortcomings.

"This is probably a great break for everybody, mentally," Boughner said. "Recharge the batteries and come back and try to forget about this week of hockey and put a good week in as soon as we get back."

[RELATED: Report: Wilson won't disrupt Sharks' core at trade deadline]

The Sharks' final week heading into the All-Star break was an unmitigated disaster. If they're still planning on qualifying for the postseason, they can't have any more like it.