They had the same record through the first six games of last year's road trip, and finished 2-6-1. Given that, they have to be glad the SAP Tennis tournament will not force them out of HP Pavilion next season. However, they can hardly blame it on the road trip when they were 0-1-2 in the three home games in February, when they have gone just 1-6-3.
Goalie Antti Niemi again kept the Sharks in the game. He turned away the first 20 shots he faced, including the first two on the fifth Stars power play. But then things fell apart.
Douglas Murray was picked in the corner and lost his stick. Dallas took advantage and Jaromir Jagr recorded the first goal of the game in the final minute of the second period. Murray lived up to his nickname (Crankshaft, or Cranky), barked at the officials for missing the pick and took an unsportsmanlike conduct minor to put San Jose right back on the penalty kill.
They were able to kill the rest of the period, but Michael Ryder needed just 30 seconds of the third to notch what turned out to be the game-winning goal. Thanks to two Dallas penalties almost immediately after, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were able to lift the curse on a power play that had two goals in its last 51 chances. The captain told the team leader in goals where the puck would go off the draw and Patty slapped it home two seconds into a two-man advantage.
But again that was all the Sharks would get. When Jamie Benn added the game's only even-strength marker with just over two minutes left, it was over. For the third time this season while facing a goalie with fewer than 10 career NHL starts, they were unable to hit the three-goal threshold.
Despite coming off travel and a game the night before, the effort was better than it had been with three days off. Perhaps some of that was the opposition: Chicago is the best team in the NHL while Dallas still sits outside the eighth spot in the Western Conference when going on the only logical determinant, point percentage. San Jose won one more draw, had one more takeaway and avoided four giveaways their opposition could not.
Still, the holes in the game are apparent. This team is never in the right place for rebounds, often because they are too far from the net—Sharks broadcaster Drew Remenda pointed out one such case with Martin Havlat. While they blocked seven more shots and thus got four more on goal, the Stars had one more attempt because they had a whopping 21 more hits.
With 12 goals in 10 games this month, it should be clear to everyone in the organization that this team does not have what it takes to contend. But there are no easy solutions to making this team competitive now.
Even if another trade would change their dynamic, there are still so few potential trading partners out there so few games into the 2013 NHL season. Moreover, the possible movable assets could be diminished until mid-March depending upon what happens with Brent Burns and Ryane Clowe.
Burns left the ice after playing just 2:07 and did not return. He has not looked well since getting back in the lineup, and perhaps health explains his lack of effort to catch up to opponent Brenden Saad on his shorthanded game-winner Friday night.
Clowe was suspended pending a hearing for jumping off the bench Friday night to fight Andrew Shaw. While no fight took place, leaving the bench is an automatic 10-game suspension. Clowe is expected to argue that he was coming in for Joe Pavelski, whose approach to the bench for a change is what made him vulnerable to Shaw.
If that was the case, there would be no suspension; thus Clowe should have been allowed to play until the hearing. However, it is hard to see him making a difference given he is scoreless through his first 16 games.
The bottom line is that teams playing poorly do not get breaks on or off the ice. If the Sharks cannot figure out a way to put at least two goals up on a regular basis, they might as well dump their core for younger talent and start over.
Examiner.com's three stars of the game:
- No matter how terrible the offense he faced, Cristopher Nilstorp was impressive turning away 31 of 32 shots (.969 save percentage).
- Benn set the first goal on a silver platter and punched home the last one to seal the win for Dallas.
- Even though it was his third-worst performance in save percentage and goals allowed (tie) all season, Niemi made several impressive saves to give his team a chance. That gives him the edge over Jagr, who put home an easy goal and set up the insurance marker.