Kevin Labanc

Sharks lament lack of smarts as win streak ends in loss to Panthers

Sharks lament lack of smarts as win streak ends in loss to Panthers

SAN JOSE – The Sharks have had to rally through a tough schedule all season. On some nights, despite going into a game with the right mindset, fatigue can still creep in. 

Thursday's 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers was one of those nights. 

“It hit us tonight,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer summarized. “Five games in eight nights and a back-to-back to Minnesota and Winnipeg and back, I think it caught up to us a little bit.”

Mix a busy schedule against tough teams with plenty of penalty trouble Thursday night, and the odds weren't in the Sharks' favor. 

“You have to give them credit too, they played hard.” DeBoer said. “We’ve found a way, a lot of times this year, to win these games when our energy was down. But tonight wasn’t one of those nights.”

Kevin Labanc agreed: “We’ve had plenty of games like that and we found a way to win. We just weren’t really smart, I think.”

The smarts Labanc was referring to were in relation to San Jose’s penalty trouble. The Panthers entered Thursday with the NHL's second-best power play, so staying out of the box was imperative.

While the Sharks did do an excellent job killing off a Logan Couture double minor halfway through the second period playing for a long stretch shorthanded took the wind out of San Jose’s sails. When the team was penalized for having too many men on the ice at the end of that frame, Florida forward Mike Hoffman found the back of the net on the ensuing power play to give the Panthers a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

“They’ve got a good power play, they made us pay,” Couture said. “We were sloppy all night though. Penalties, turnovers, everything.”

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Joe Pavelski mentioned that one area where the Sharks have been successful as of late has been in third periods. Despite being down, San Jose went into the final 20 minutes with the idea they could turn things around. San Jose did put on a bit of pressure in the game's final minutes, but couldn’t cut into that two-goal hole.

“We go out with the mindset ‘if we win the period here, we win the game,’” the captain said. “We didn’t jump on it.”

The Sharks will have to rest up and refill the gas tank. They have tough competition in the Nashville Predators and the Vegas Golden Knights coming into town on the homestand, and they simply need to have more energy than they did against the Panthers.

“I’m sure the energy level looked like it was low,” Couture admitted. “We’ve got to find a way to play better than that.”

Sharks’ fight to first in Western Conference standings not easy nor done

Sharks’ fight to first in Western Conference standings not easy nor done

SAN JOSE — To say the Sharks battled to overtake first place in the Western Conference on Saturday probably is a bit of an understatement. 

San Jose had to get past a tough-as-nails St. Louis Blues squad that put together a tight-checking game at SAP Center, all led by an out-of-his-mind goaltending effort from Jake Allen. If you didn’t know any better, you might’ve thought San Jose's 3-2 win over St. Louis was a playoff game. 

“You’re fighting for every inch of ice. It was relentless,” Sharks winger Kevin Labanc said after the game. “They had a couple chances, we had a couple chances. It was a really even game, I’d say. It was a lot of fun to play in.”

No surprise Labanc called the game “fun”. He did, after all, tally the game-winning goal in overtime — just what the Sharks (41-19-8, 90 points) needed to surpass the Calgary Flames (41-20-7, 89 points) in the standings.

The win also completed San Jose’s sweep of a four-game homestand, which Joe Pavelski pointed to as a boost to the team’s climb in the standings.

“We’ve caught a little stretch where we’ve been at home winning some games and Calgary’s been dropping a couple,” the captain said of the Sharks’ Pacific Division rivals, who have lost four consecutive games. 

But taking over first place in the conference isn’t just about besting the Flames. Just a few months ago, San Jose had a four-game losing streak of its own and met with general manager Doug Wilson. It isn’t lost on the Sharks how much they’ve improved since the beginning of the season.

“It means that we’ve come a long way,” Logan Couture said. “Not too long ago, we were going through some tough times as a team. We weren’t anywhere near the top of the conference. It means that we’ve found our game and played up to our capabilities.”

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer agreed.

“I like where our game is at heading into the last portion of the season,” he said. “It’s been a long road for us.”

Now, San Jose has to continue playing that way. With 14 games remaining in the regular season and the race for playoff positioning still incredibly tight, the Sharks have to keep pushing.

“We know that (Calgary’s) game will come around,” Pavelski said. “It’s just about playing hard every night and trying to put those points in our column.”

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The Sharks can't enjoy the win for long. They'll hit the road for a back-to-back against the Winnipeg Jets (Monday) and the Minnesota Wild (Tuesday). 

Yet that doesn't mean they can't enjoy it at all. 

“It’s only one point. We still have a lot of work to do,” Labanc said, before adding: “But it’s definitely nice knowing you’re at the top of the conference.”

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 3-2 overtime win vs. Blues in matinee

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 3-2 overtime win vs. Blues in matinee

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – Coach Peter DeBoer said the Sharks' matchup with the St. Louis Blues would test his team – and boy, he wasn’t kidding. San Jose went back-and-forth with St. Louis in a fast-paced contest Saturday afternoon, and it came right down to the wire. In the end, Kevin Labanc played the hero by tallying the game-winner in overtime to lift the Sharks to a 3-2 victory.

Here are three takeaways from the matinee:

Blues goaltending at the forefront

DeBoer told the media before Saturday’s contest one of the Sharks’ biggest challenges was going to be breaking through the Blues’ goaltending.

“They're playing with that confidence great goaltending gives you,” he said. “It's a good test for us."

San Jose had to grind to get the puck past Jake Allen, who made colossal saves throughout the game – including a few notable stops in the final minutes of the third period as the Sharks tried to break a 2-2 tie. Ultimately, they stepped up to the challenge of getting past a hot netminder.

On that same note …

Credit to third-period play

You really do have to hand it to the Sharks. They’ve been turning on the jets late in the games on their current homestand, despite the fact they’ve been missing key players due to injury and a chunk of the team suffered from the flu.

San Jose heavily outshot St. Louis in the third period on Saturday, holding the visitors to just two shots on goal for the majority of the frame. The Sharks' efforts in the final minutes of regulation were particularly impressive, as they continued to pepper Allen with chances.

For a team that expects to go deep into the playoffs, this is a trend they’ll want to continue.

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Timo time, times two

The Swiss forward is back to that dominant level he reached at the beginning of the season. He scored both of San Jose’s regulation goals in the first period – one on the power play, and the other after catching a sweet back-handed pass from Logan Couture. 

Meier was gunning for that third goal for the rest of the game, only to be stymied by a clearly in-the-zone Allen. While he still hasn’t tallied his first career NHL hat trick, Meier is heating back up at just the right time.