SAN JOSE – The Sharks had leads of 2-0 and 4-2, yet couldn’t secure the win in a deflating 5-4 loss to the Wild at home on Thursday. Here’s what we learned from the defeat…
1 – Giving a hot team life
The only other team hotter than the Wild entering Thursday’s game was the Columbus Blue Jackets – incidentally, the only team that had given Minnesota a regulation loss in the month of December. The Wild came in with a plus-37 goal differential, too – 24 better than second place San Jose (plus-13).
In other words, they have been feeling it lately. And when you give a team like that a little opening, they can bust down the door.
That’s what happened on the third goal, when Justin Braun and Logan Couture both were unable to clear the puck from the front of the net, and Eric Staal brought the Wild back to within a goal. They kept coming after that, and neither the Sharks skaters nor goalie Martin Jones could handle it.
“They came out in the third and played well. I don’t think we handled the pressure of them coming as well as we’d like," Braun said. “Some of these games will happen, you’ve just got to learn from it and not let it happen again.”
2 – New lines click, Ward produces
The biggest reason for optimism from the Sharks’ perspective was that their new lines looked dangerous for most of the game. Timo Meier gave the top line an added element, and the rookie was perhaps San Jose’s best player in the first period. Kevin Labanc continued to show flashes of brilliance on a pair of pretty setup to Joonas Donskoi, one of which resulted in the first goal of the game. The fourth line had some good chances, including a Micheal Haley breakaway and team-high five shots by the winger.
The third line scored twice – including a goal by Joel Ward, who was in desperate need of one. Ward also set up Patrick Marleau’s goal that pushed San Jose’s lead to 4-2 in the third period.
For Ward, who was so vital to the Sharks’ success last season, it was his first multi-point game of the season. He ended a 16-game goal drought.
“Hopefully it leads to a bunch more. It was good to contribute, for sure,” he said. “Just try to continue to do some small things, and stay with it. Try to get to the net, of course, and try to make some plays.”
3 – Foundation cracking without Vlasic
The Sharks remain in first place due primarily to the play of their defense and goalie, but they’re having a real tough time dealing without Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who has now missed three straight games – all Sharks losses.
Braun simply isn’t the same player without his partner, and Brent Burns and Paul Martin aren’t handling the extra minutes and responsibility very well, either. They all have to be better.
“We were turning pucks over on their dumps, we weren’t getting out clean, and we were spending time in the [defensive] zone,” Braun said.
Vlasic is eligible to play on Saturday, but he hasn’t been practicing yet. We’ll see if he’s on the ice Friday, because the Sharks need him back – especially with some important division games looming next week in Alberta.