The San Jose Sharks lost at home to the worst team from the worst division on the longest losing streak of the 2013-14 NHL season Tuesday, Dec. 10. The five pictured New York Islanders willed their team from a two-goal, third-period deficit to end a 10-game losing streak.
Even after the win the Islanders are the second-worst team in the NHL with a worse record than any team in the Western Conference. With this loss, the Sharks confirmed that they have again gone directly from red hot to ice cold by dropping their fourth straight. The only reliable thing about this team is its inconsistency, so they are sure to follow it with another hot streak.
Hot-and-cold teams do not win the Stanley Cup because it is nearly impossible to stay hot for the minimum 20 games it takes to be champions in the NHL. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
Already in the 2013-14 NHL season, San Jose has had two streaks of 10 or more games that both had just one regulation loss and at least nine wins. Losing streaks of at least four games and at least three in regulation have followed both winning runs.
The good news is that over the last two games, the Sharks seem to have corrected the problems that led to their first two losses in this slump. Teams transitioning from cold to hot often lose a game or two they should have won.
After out-shooting the Minnesota Wild 38-13 Sunday, San Jose held an 18-3 lead in the first period Tuesday that included three power play opportunities. The first goal did not come until after the intermission and broke a streak of 14 consecutive failed chances: Logan Couture slung the puck across the crease where Dan Boyle got a stick on it, and it caromed out to Patrick Marleau for a shot from the wing before Kevin Poulin could get across.
It took two dozen shots and over 25 minutes to get the first goal. The Sharks managed just one goal on two dozen more shots over the final 35: Marleau took advantage of a giveaway by Kyle Okposo and fed Boyle, whose shot caromed to Joe Pavelski for the two-goal lead with 4:36 left in the second period.
Poulin has had a rocky season (4-11-0, .896 save percentage and 3.06 goals-against average) was brilliant, including a sequence when he made a save, scrambled to locate the puck just in time to stop another shot from his belly then raised his skate to kick-save the rebound. San Jose still needs to ask, why are even below-average goalies to look so good against this talented offensive lineup?
For the Sharks to win series in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, they will have to beat better goalies playing with more support. They cannot be the team that has been shut down offensively in two losing streaks just 31 games into the season.
Captain John Tavares came out of the dressing room after the second intermission reminding his team, "we just need one" to get back in the game. Then he helped make it happen with a move that forced Antti Niemi to his stick-side post. The puck trickled back into the crease where Okposo got his stick on it but could not put it home like Tomas Vanek did.
Tavares also got the assist on the tying goal with Poulin pulled, getting the puck to Okposo on the far wing for a shot with Vanek obstructing Niemi's view of the puck. Pavelski talked about the frustration of losing that draw won after winning 10 of his other 14, and San Jose coach Todd McLellan was focused on how the opposition's top line has been too much for his team during the losing streak.
Nevertheless, the Sharks did not lose because they quit playing hard. They held a 16-10 edge in shots in the third period and dominated all game stats outside of the scoreboard and hits (35-13 Islanders): 32-25 edge in faceoffs and 16-8 in takeaways but only four more giveaways (20-16) led to a 48-28 edge in shots and 95-62 attempts but only a deficit of 25-27 in blocked shots.
Sometimes the best team does not win, but San Jose better find a way to get two points soon or they may suffer an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoff picture in the Western Conference.