The San Jose Sharks had a shot at their Pacific Division rivals Thursday, Dec. 20. The Los Angeles Kings were without the best goalie in the world and facing a team coming off a strong road win over the very good St. Louis Blues.
Instead, examining the missed shots as metaphors for this team could make for interesting academia. They could easily have won this game if not for their continued lack of ability to beat the opposing goalie, including some with less success so early in their careers as Martin Jones—the highest-rated of the pictured stars.
San Jose made him look like Jonathan Quick, beating him only once in 32 shots on a rink that is at the very least daunting. Players like Logan Couture (six missed shots!), Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl, Tommy Wingels and Marc-Edouard Vlasic missed the net entirely, rang shots off the post or saw Jones turn aside multiple grade-A scoring chances.
Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown also received a questionable match penalty for kneeing Hertl in the leg. The rookie phenom did not return and there is no word on him.
Losing a shooter did not help the power play, nor did losing two minute of the major for an interference on Brent Burns. Nine minutes of power play in the game did not result in one goal for the Sharks.
Their penalty kill was officially successful in its only time called upon just over nine minutes into the second period, but the Kings scored 12 seconds later: Jones directed the puck to Slava Voynov, who recognized a teammate was behind San Jose's defenders. The puck was advanced quickly enough that Tyler Toffoli was able to get a one-on-one shot on Antti Niemi from 12 yards away, ringing it off the iron and in.
That goal was less than six minutes after their first score: Toffoli fed Alec Martinez at the point, whose shot went off the inside of Joe Pavelski's leg and in before Niemi could adjust to the change of direction.
The game broke open on the first shift of the third period: Robyn Regehr got the puck to Dwight King, and the rebound his shot created was stuffed home by Jeff Carter. The same three hooked up for another goal 5:40 later, with the goal-scorer and primary set-up man being reversed.
The Sharks did save a little face with a goal in the final minutes: Martin Havlat advanced the puck out of the defensive zone to Patrick Marleau, who got through the defenders and let go a seven-yard wrist-shot goal broke the shutout. However, Stanley Cup contenders can score.
This is the third time in their last eight games that they managed just one goal, and they have failed to score three in five of those games. It is no coincidence they are 2-5-1 in that stretch.
That slide has cost them dearly. San Jose is now third in the Pacific Division and has just the sixth-best point percentage in the Western Conference. The Anaheim Ducks are five points ahead and Los Angeles four, with each having played one more game. That essentially means both are about two games ahead for home-ice advantage in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
You reap what you sow in sports, but the results are not always immediate. Poor effort started the current slide, but they have not been able to reap wins from their recent good efforts. In this game, they beat a good team in the circle 32-26, had half the giveaways (4-8) and still almost as many takeaways (2-3) but did not look competitive on the scoreboard.
One area still needing work is the pass-first mentality. When shooters grip their sticks, they also become more reluctant to shoot and are often guilty of missing an opportunity to shoot while looking for the unmissable shot opportunity. That may explain why the Kings still attempted two more shots (57-55) despite losing the possession battle, but they only matched the 32 on net because the Sharks did a better job blocking shots (13-9).
They were also surprisingly better in hits—officially 35-33, but the subjectivity of the statistic is evident when Tommy Wingels is credited with 11 and would be lucky to get a half-dozen in San Jose. Still, both teams have the same statistician and keeping up with physical Los Angeles is commendable.
In the end, good efforts are not enough. The Sharks have to be able to finish chances and earn two points if they are going to stay in contention for the Pacific Division title. Given they have won just 10 of 20 road games so far in the 2013-14 NHL season, not reaching that pinnacle might mean not making the Western Conference finals, much less winning the Stanley Cup.