SAN JOSE -- The Sharks' homestand is no longer unblemished after San Jose lost 3-2 to the Minnesota Wild at SAP Center on Thursday night. Team Teal never led in the contest and saw its three-game winning streak come to an end.
San Jose probably deserved a better outcome, but Minnesota goaltender and former Shark Alex Stalock proved to be the difference on the night. He stopped 40 of the Sharks' 42 shots, including several big ones late in the game. Stefan Noesen and Joe Thornton scored for San Jose, but the Sharks were unable to come up with the equalizer despite pulling netminder Martin Jones in the final minutes.
Here are three takeaways from a close-but-no-cigar game for San Jose.
A new normal?
The Sharks' recent strong play has been deserving of sellout crowds. But if Thursday any indication, there's no guarantee they'll get even a single one no matter how well they play from here on out.
SAP Center distributed 14,517 tickets for Thursday's game, which is more than 3,000 below the arena's capacity (17,562). Hockey Reference has game-by-game attendance data going back to the 2015-16 season, and Thursday's crowd was the lowest attendance the Sharks have had in a home game over that span.
The low figure had nothing to do with the fact that San Jose is all but certain to miss out on the playoffs, nor due to Minnesota not necessarily being a major draw. The Sharks averaged 16,868 fans over the first three games of the homestand, including a sellout against the Pittsburgh Penguins. No, Thursday's abnormally small crowd had everything to do with coronavirus.
Earlier Thursday, the Santa Clara County public health department recommended "postponing or canceling mass gatherings and large community events where large numbers of people are within arm's length of one another." Hours before the game, the Sharks issued a statement informing fans that it would proceed as scheduled, but the attendance clearly was impacted.
Within the statement, San Jose said it would "be evaluating further upcoming events in the coming days." Following Thursday's loss, the Sharks have two more games remaining on their current homestand, a back-to-back against the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche over the weekend. After that, they only have five more home games left on their season schedule, and none until March 19.
A lot can happen in two weeks. With more confirmed cases popping up each day -- particularly locally -- there's a more-than-decent chance Thursday's crowd at SAP won't be the smallest one the Sharks play in front of throughout the rest of the season.
Capitalizing on the man advantage
San Jose's special teams have been a mixed bag this season, to put it lightly.
While the Sharks have been able to rely on their No. 1 ranked penalty kill all season long, the power play has existed on the opposite end of the spectrum, ranking near the bottom of the league. In the 16 games spanning from Jan. 16 to the win over the New Jersey Devils at the beginning of the current homestand, San Jose went 4-for-37 on the power play, good for an abhorrent 9.8 percent success rate.
In the three games since, though, the Sharks have been much better with the man advantage.
It began in the win over the Penguins, when Timo Meier scored seven seconds after a penalty expired in the second period. Technically, it wasn't a power-play goal, but he scored before Pittsburgh was able to recover at full strength. In the win over the Toronto Maple Leafs two days later, Evander Kane got the scoring started on the power play, and Stefan Noesen scored San Jose's second power-play goal in as many games when he tipped in Noah Gregor's shot from the point late in the first period Thursday night.
Noesen ties it up 👏 pic.twitter.com/60K4KwssQ1— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) March 6, 2020
It wasn't that long ago that the Sharks had one of the more formidable power-play units in the league, having ranked sixth in the NHL last season (23.7 percent). Perhaps this recent surge is a sign they're getting back to that strength.
Another streak ends
Jones entered Thursday's game with a couple of things going for him. For one, he was in the midst of his best stretch of play this season. On top of that, he had Minnesota's number.
Last season, Jones faced the Wild three times, winning all three games and posting two shutouts. He also started -- and won -- both of San Jose's prior games against Minnesota this season, adding another shutout to his credentials.
All good things must come to an end, though, and that they did Thursday night. Jones lost his chance at a shutout less than nine minutes into the contest, and although he didn't play poorly by any means, he failed to come up with the clutch stops he produced earlier in the homestand.
Jones and the Sharks obviously sought a different outcome Thursday night. But nonetheless, the team can still feel much better about its goaltending situation than it did just a couple of weeks ago.