The San Jose Sharks put the breaks on being out-played for five of the six periods leading up to their game against the Minnesota Wild Sunday, Dec. 8. Unfortunately, they continued to skid to their third-straight regulation defeat largely because of the pictured stars.
Following the increasingly up-and-down Sharks can leave one a little bipolar in recent years. So far in the 2013-14 NHL season, they went directly from an 8-0-1 start to a five-game losing streak, immediately followed by a six-game winning streak into last week.
Going at least a week between games earning any points may leave San Jose out of the cat-bird seat in the Pacific Division. The Anaheim Ducks have already moved ahead in points and the Los Angeles Kings have a chance to pass both in point percentage Tuesday.
Such is the nature of playing in the Western Conference in the 2013-14 NHL season. The Sharks have the third-best record in the NHL in terms of points or point percentage, but are within one game over the final 52 of being without home ice advantage in even the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
If San Jose could switch coasts for the tournament, it would host four games in every Eastern Conference playoff series. Minnesota three games back of the Central Division-leading Chicago Blackhawks but one game away from not seeing the postseason.
That does not leave room for Western Conference teams to take comfort in playing well. Despite winning six more faceoffs (35-29), having two more takeaways (7-5) and the same number of giveaways (3-3), the Wild was out-shot 38-13 and out-attempted 69-33. Yet they managed only seven more blocks (18-11)—a smaller percentage of attempts and about half the ratio to shots allowed—and one more hit (16-15).
That kind of play will win the Sharks enough games in the remaining 20 weeks of the 2013-14 NHL season to win the Pacific Division. They will need to learn how to finish when it is difficult to score to win the Stanley Cup.
Minnesota got a little help on their first goal under four minutes into the game. Zach Parise slashed the stick out of the hands of Justin Braun, allowing Miikko Koivu to get the puck to Marco Scandella for a shot from the point. Jason Pominville tipped the puck and it bounced back to the man whose uncalled penalty started the whole thing for an open backhand.
It was just their sixth shot of the game, and Antti Niemi faced only six more shots the rest of the game. One bad line change led to an odd-man rush to help the Wild put another past him 4:16 later: Scandella fed Jared Spurgeon skating into the zone, who found Koivu for what turned out to be the game-winner.
Already by the second intermission, the Sharks had more shots on goal than the Wild had faced at home in any entire game. Josh Harding was ready for the first 37, with especially impressive saves against Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and newly-recalled Matt Nieto.
It was not until coach Todd McLellan pulled Niemi early that his team broke through. With 1:41 left, Patrick Marleau put home a rebound from a Logan Couture shot Spurgeon blocked. Matt Irwin got the primary assist pinching up to add more net-front presence.
Unfortunately, San Jose could not get another shot on goal. With 10 seconds left, Kyle Brodziak stole the puck in the neutral zone and found Parise for the empty-net goal to end the scoring.