The second game of the home-and-home series between Pacific Division rivals had a good start for the San Jose Sharks Tuesday, Dec. 31. Then the Anaheim Ducks pushed back and broke their guests with four straight goals.
As is often the case in a collapse, there is no candidate on the Sharks for the pictured players of the game. No one deserves special mention, unless it was to say that Tyler Kennedy makes those following the team long for Martin Havlat, who at least flashes something of value (when he is not hurt) for all the lackadaisical-looking, costly mistakes that one cannot get away with in the deep Western Conference.
For a while, Antti Niemi kept the team in the game while they played contrary to their first intermission words of not getting frustrated or changing their game. As it turned out, the game was really won in the first period by his seemingly impregnable counterpart, Jonas Hiller.
San Jose was blazing to start the game, registering 15 of the 18 shots on goal in the first 16 minutes. Then a Kennedy giveaway was shot in near the net by Cam Fowler, then given to Matt Beleskey for a shot that was tipped in by Kyle Palmieri.
This kind of fortune could be why Anaheim has not lost at home in regulation this season. The 2007 Stanley Cup champions also know a thing or two about responding.
The goal propelled the Ducks to the next four shots, but then a missed puck left Corey Perry out of position on Joe Thornton. The instigator compensated by slashing the captain, who had the first in a series of three power play shots at the close of the period. Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau got into the act, but the last shot was less than a second late.
The Sharks came out to get that goal in the first shift of the second period. Thornton got the puck to Pavelski, who served it up to Dan Boyle in the middle inside the blue line for the hard slap-shot, tying goal.
There was little doubt the Ducks would answer, but they should not have absolutely dominated for the rest of the game. The Pacific Division leaders went on a 25-7 tear in shots on goal. It took almost 10 minutes for them to break through, but things moved very fast after they did.
Just before the mid-point of the game, they won an offensive zone faceoff and stayed on the attack for 83 seconds. In the last five of those seconds, shots from Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Getzlaf were turned away before Francois Beauchemin slipped a rebound between the stacked pads of a sliding Niemi.
About a minute later, Matt Nieto was called for embellishing a hold that was also called on Beauchemin. In the ensuing four-on-four, Marc-Edouard Vlasic took advantage of a Saku Koivu giveaway and advanced the puck to Logan Couture, whose give-and-go with Marleau was played to perfection with a point-blank, roofed forehand.
However, the high-sticking call on James Sheppard 86 seconds after Couture's goal led to another Anaheim lead 58 seconds into the power play: Getzlaf threw the puck to the crease and it caromed right to Nick Bonino with half an empty cage to deposit it in; Fowler also earned another assist on the play.
It looked like San Jose had another answer when Hiller was out of position as the puck came to Thornton, but Ben Lovejoy's sprawling effort on the day his first child (Lila Lovejoy sounds like a Bond girl) was born deflected the puck wide. Fifty seconds later, Bonino's takeaway led to the only assist on Beleskey's goal to re-establish a two-goal lead.
That two-goal swing broke the Sharks.
Getzlaf got the puck from Perry and slapped the puck past Niemi from the glove-side circle on a semi-breakaway just over a minute into the third period. That brought about a goalie change, and a Beleskey penalty that should have opened the door became disastrous when two Sharks fell. Alex Stalock stopped Koivu's shot on the resulting three-on-zero attack, but could not save Andrew Cogliano's rebound follow.
To its credit, the San Jose power play scored with some personnel not normally given those roles: Matt Nieto fed Matt Irwin, whose shot was deflected home by Bracken Kearns. The score gives him NHL goals in consecutive games after going without one in his first 15 years as an adult.
From there, the Ducks mostly played to run the clock. For the game, they won 32 of 62 faceoffs but had five more giveaways (8-3) with just the only takeaway for either team to compensate. They faced more shots attempts (65-53) but got more on net (38-36) because they did a better job blocking them (15-11). They also laid wood, out-hitting the Sharks 27-12.
San Jose had better play with more effort Thursday against another Pacific Division rival. The Edmonton Oilers may be the worst team in the Western Conference, but they have the speed to hurt a team that does not play hard. Todd McLellan was certainly not happy with the last two periods of 2013 by his team:
We were on our toes. We were winning the races...where did it go in the second? I guess that's the big question we have to ask our group.
Fortunately, the Los Angeles Kings also lost, leaving the Sharks in second place in the Pacific Division. That is still in position to get home-ice advantage in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. Seeding figures to be very important in the competitive Western Conference.