TAYLOR HALL GOAL JUST CROSSES LINE IN 2ND - GRAPHIC CSNCA
SHARKS STATS DURING 6GM LOSING STREAK, 6GM HOME LOSING STREAK
The Sharks have been struggling with the basic fundamentals of hockey. Lacking the offensive punch to power past teams, San Jose has also been struggling as a team to play a full 20 minute period of mistake free hockey. Four games past the midpoint of the season, the back-to-back-to-back Pacific Division champions are outside of the playoff window and watching it get furthur away with each loss. A 5-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night at HP Pavilion increased their losing streak to 6 games dating back to January 3rd, and increased their home losing streak to 6 games dating back to December 27th.
After the game frustrated San Jose head coach Todd McLellan both stepped in front of criticism, and directly challenged his team to play with more responsibility and intensity. “I am the leader of this team. I am the coach, I am the leader,” McLellan responded when asked whether more leadership was needed on the ice. “It is my responsibility to make sure they are prepared to play. After that it becomes an individual’s responsibility. Right now I am not doing a very good job. They need to step up a little bit. I need to do a better job, find better buttons to push.”
The offense has been struggling. Prior to Edmonton, the Sharks had 19 power play opportunities in the previous 19 periods (5.26%). For a team that leans heavily on its special teams to win games, that is a problem. 5-on-5 scoring, and generating quality even strength scoring chances has also been a problem. In the previous 4 games, San Jose was held to only 3 even strength goals and shutout twice. Ebbs in scoring, and ebbs in the schedule are natural in a marathon 82-game season, but while some teams can bear down defensively San Jose continues to make mistakes. Thursday night against Edmonton, the Sharks made enough critical mistakes in each period to lose the game.
After playing a fairly tight first period, a defensive breakdown/miscommunication lead to the Oilers first goal of the game at 15:34. Losers of 9 of their last 10 games, an injury riddled and youthful Edmonton Oilers squad was in danger of being swept in a season series for the first time in the Sharks 20 year history. Dany Heatley and Joe Pavelski failed to switch off on coverage low in their own defensive zone, and both players ended up moving towards defenseman Tom Gilbert on the right wing. That left center Andrew Cogliano open on the left side of goaltender Antero Niittymaki, and he buried a quick shot high short side for the first goal of the game.
The Oilers next goal early in the second period also came on a somewhat broken play. Right wing Ales Hemsky challenged Ryane Clowe to keep the puck in at the point, and Hemsky wristed a quick shot on goal with Taylor Hall providing a screen in front. After Penner and Hemsky controlled the rebound behind the net, Penner slid to the slot and Hemsky hit him on the stick with a crisp pass. Sharks goaltender Antero Niittymaki went prone to block the initial Hall deflection attempt. As “Nitty” tried to regain his feet for Penner’s one-timer, he couldn’t regain a set position quickly enough to stop the fairly straightforward shot. Less than 25 minutes into the game, the Sharks were already on the wrong end of a 2 goal lead.
Asked whether Thursday night was a continuation of recent problems, or if the game was more troubling than past efforts, San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan was blunt. “I personally feel it was more troubling. Right now it is just simple, simple things. We fell down defending. That can happen in a game. We win a faceoff and shot a puck clearly over the glass. It is not even close,” McLellan said describing mistakes that lead to the Oilers third and fourth goals. “Where are we mentally? We address something between periods. The very first shift we go out and do it, opposite of what (they) were asked to do. To me, that is troubling.”
Defenseman Niclas Wallin tripped and fell to the ice late in the second period, opening up Taylor Hall for a breakaway opportunity on goal. Sharks goaltender Antero Niittymaki blocked the initial wrist shot, but the puck dropped off his pads to his left and trickled over the goal line. The play went to video review before the off-ice officials eventually ruled it a good goal. “I know I had it,” Niittymaki said after the game. “He slashed me on the my pads. It was the same thing with the 4th one. It’s not good enough when you score 2 in your own net. I have to be better.”
San Jose captain Joe Thornton added a power play goal 5:55 into the third period to cut the Oilers lead to 3-1. It came after Sharks picked up the intensity several notches. The top power play unit of Marleau-Heatley-Thornton created scoring chances down low on their first shift. After Hemsky hit the post on a shorthanded breakaway, it was defenseman Douglas Murray driving the net and trying to shovel a Dany Heatley rebound on goal. 6-foot-5 former Stockton Thunder goaltender Devan Dubnyk made the save down low. After another Cogliano-Penner shorthanded rush, the Sharks were forced to regather the puck twice on their counter rush up ice. It did not slow them down. Marleau fed a short pass to Heatley on the right wing. Thornton buried the quick Heatley cross-crease pass for his 11th goal of the season.
It was a momentum shift the Sharks could not maintain. Ryane Clowe was called for a marginal holding call at 7:04, brushing part of his glove against a passing forward. This came a minute and a half after defenseman Theo Peckham cross checked Thornton to the ice in front of the net without a call. Then after a Sharks faceoff win, defenseman Kent Huskins fired a clearing attempt over the glass for a delay of game penalty at 7:09. The Oilers would have a near full two minute 5-on-3 power play opportunity. The Sharks beared down on the penalty kill, and two critical saves by Niittymaki gave the Sharks the opportunity to escape unharmed. “Nitty” made a hard right to left push to stone the Oilers point blank, then made another clutch reaction save as the puck traveled from behind the net out front for a one-timer.
Then center Scott Nichol’s stick broke. He could not clear the puck out of the zone, or defend against a shot from high in the slot. As Clowe and Huskins left the box, Hemsky corraled the puck along the half wall and carried it to the center of the offensive zone. A give and go with rookie Linus Omark gave Hemsky enough time to ring a shot off the post. The puck sat on the edge of the blue paint, and Omark beat Vlasic to the rebound for the fourth Oilers goal of the game. “We are still getting lots of shots. A couple went in tonight, we are still making mental mistakes,” Joe Thornton said after the game. “We did in our own zone. It just kills us. You come back and are in that game at 3-1 and then a couple of penalties take the wind out of the bench.”
San Jose left wing Ryane Clowe added a power play goal at 19:11 of the third period, but it was too little too late. “I am sure we are going to constantly repeat ourselves,” Clowe said. “It is probably going to sound like a broken record. There is not a lot to say. Right now, we just need to get it together.” Clowe’s effort on Thursday was the definition of a player trying to put the team on his back. Clowe dropped the gloves with Theo Peckham after he cross checked Dany Heatley repeatedly in the first period. #29 then left directly to the locker room for repairs.
After the game Clowe said he had been caught by a skate in the leg prior to the fight. He returned to the bench for the second period, and delivered a hard check behind the Oilers net despite a heavy limp. Asked about the extent of his injury during the game, and if it may keep out after Thursday, Clowe replied that he was able to play so it could not have been too bad. His response when asked if the Sharks expected to come out of their slump against the last place Oilers? “We are not exactly at the top of the standings, so there are no easy games,” Clowe replied.
Clowe’s effort was part of the problem and part of the solution to the Sharks current 6 game slide. In past playoff exits, the Sharks have had quality individual performances, but they were not matched by the 20-team roster as a whole. Asked whether he was prepared to hold individual players accountable, Todd McLellan replied yes and no. “We are all in it together. The disappointing thing for me is when someone shows up not prepared to work. I can handle mistakes,” McLellan said. “I can even even deal with losing. We are in the winning business. I can’t imagine what would happen in the real world. A brain surgeon, an ambulance driver, a police officer, someone over in Afghanistan, for somebody not being prepared to exercise what they were asked to do in critical situations. We didn’t have enough guys today.”
As to what has to change, McLellan hinted at the possibility that some players may need to be benched. Former Sharks head coach Ron Wilson noted that his main avenue to motivate players was ice time. During a different home slump, former Sharks head coach Darryl Sutter once said that maybe players needed to sleep at the rink instead of comfortably in their own beds. McLellan hinted at a change in accommodations, a change in practices, a change in the way the coach’s deliver their message as ways to right the ship. “Ultimately as individuals, you have to be ready to play. It doesn’t matter how it comes across.” After the game on Thursday night, McLellan noted that he was unhappy with the response he was given by a couple of players.
There have been local comparisons to the Detroit Red Wings losing 10 of 11 games before their eventual run to a Stanley Cup. Todd McLellan, who was an assistant coach on that team, said that comparison is not necessarily apt. “We did lose 10 of 11, and we came back and we played, but it was a little bit different to tell you the truth,” McLellan said. “We had guys coming to the rink prepared, guys that were coming ready to sacrifice, there minds were clear and they knew what the gameplan was. Tonight we didn’t have that from enough players.”
After exclaiming the Sharks had hit rock bottom after their previous loss Tuesday to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Comcast Sportsnet California analyst Bret Hedican adjusted his statement Thursday night. “I am not sure when rock bottom is going to happen,” he said.
Game Notes: The Sharks 6 game losing streak is the most the team has experienced in 15 years. The 6 game losing streak at home is the most that the team has endured in almost 14 years according to reports. Edmonton was 0-23 on the power play with an 8 game goal scoring drought heading into Thursday. The Oilers were 0-4 with the man advantage last night. Joe Pavelski returned after missing 8 games with a lower body injury. Logan Couture missed a game after a knee-on-knee hit against Toronto, but his injury is expected to be more short term than long. Justin Braun and Derek Joslin were also scratched for San Jose. Torrey Mitchell was placed on the injured reserve list with a lower body injury, and forward John McCarthy was out. Andrew Desjardins and Brandon Mashinter registered 5:55 and 3:01 of ice time respectively. Antero Niittymaki (12-6-3, .901SV%, 2.54GAA) stopped 24 of 28 shots against, and has struggled with a 4.09GAA and .838SV% in three starts since Christmas. Former Stockton Thunder goaltender Devin Dubnyk (4-3-5, .922SV%, 2.72GAA) stopped 41 of 43 shots against for his 4th win of the season. Worcester Sharks AHL head coach Roy Sommer will coach his 1000th game Friday against the Springfield Falcons.
[Update] A very unhappy Todd McLellan after 5-2 loss: ‘Maybe some guys need to watch a few games’ – David Pollak’s Working the Corners blog.
[Update2] Oilers swim away from Sharks with 5-2 win, Dubnyk makes 41 saves in goal – Jim Matheson for the Edmonton Journal.