The New Jersey Devils entered Thursday's game against the Sharks at Prudential Center as one of only three teams in the league with fewer points than San Jose. That no longer is the case after New Jersey came from behind and held off the Sharks for a 2-1 win.
San Jose got on the board first and maintained that lead through the first half of the contest, but Jesper Bratt scored on a breakaway late in the second period to pull the Devils even, and P.K. Subban's power-play goal in the third proved to be the game-winner. The Sharks had an advantage in shots, scoring chances and high-danger chances, but New Jersey netminder Mackenzie Blackwood came up big when it mattered most.
Here are three takeaways from a loss that ends San Jose's road winning streak at four games.
Seizing the opportunity
Things started very well for the Sharks. They had good jump in the first period, and we're able to take the lead thanks to some unexpected contributors.
Just over seven minutes into the game, Alex True won a faceoff in the offensive zone and passed it back to Jake Middleton, who promptly slid it across the blue line to his defensive partner Tim Heed. Heed then threw an innocent-enough shot at the net, but thanks to plenty of traffic in front, it slid past Blackwood for the first goal of the night.
Heed scores the first goal of the night 👏 pic.twitter.com/ztwjKBKcWw— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) February 21, 2020
True made his NHL debut a couple of weeks ago. Thursday was Middleton's eighth career NHL game, and Heed has gone back and forth between the Sharks and the Barracuda in the AHL. Having the three of them combine for a goal was a promising sign, and the exact kind of silver lining San Jose should be focusing on throughout the remainder of a season that is not headed for the playoffs.
The fact that a fourth-line goal was arguably the Sharks' top highlight of the game should tell you everything you need to know about the level of competition involved. The Devils have been as active as any team as the league nears the trade deadline, and a combination of injuries to critical players and the recent trade of Brenden Dillon has similarly sapped San Jose's talent level.
The end result was a contest between two rosters that, frankly, should be at the bottom of the standings -- and are.
It would be tough for any team to overcome the injuries to Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson -- the latter two of which were season-ending -- but the Sharks can't exactly use the same youth-movement excuse as New Jersey. Entering Thursday, the Devils entire roster had appeared in a total of 5,648 NHL games. For comparison, San Jose's Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic had combined for 5,463.
Promising, but frustrating
You can't pin Thursday's loss on Martin Jones, but nonetheless, his inability to finish off what was a stellar start in net through 1.5 periods is somewhat frustrating.
He was left out to dry on Bratt's goal, and Subban's tally was the result of some truly terrible timing to reposition. It also would have helped if someone had cleared the screen directly blocking his vision. Prior to those faults, Jones had played great and came up with several big saves to keep his team in front. His stick save on the goal line in the second period was arguably his best save of the season.
This save from Jones 🤯 pic.twitter.com/ntKx1Apx80— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) February 21, 2020
With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, the Sharks surely will be looking into ways to address their goaltending problem. The odds are against Jones playing elsewhere anytime soon, but it sure would have been nice if he had something better to show for what might be his final showcase opportunity before Monday's deadline.