The San Jose Sharks were at their most impressive against a likely Western Conference playoff team Tuesday, March 12. But teams with only two wins outside of the shootout in their last 20 games cannot be merely impressive.
The Sharks have to win games.
To do that, they have to score goals. Jake Allen has turned away fewer than nine of every 10 shots (the minimum standard for even a backup in the NHL) and given up almost three goals per game despite being behind a defense that allows the fewest shots per game in the league.
No team can make a substandard goalie look brilliant like San Jose. Joe Thornton missed the net on a breakaway and a sure rebound goal. Ryane Clowe continues to miss the net, putting a rebound off the post that turned into a goal the other way.
Now the Sharks have a new disturbing trend: Antti Niemi has three games in a row giving up three goals, two of which came with a sub-.900 save percentage. It is a short sample, but must stop if a team with fewer than three goals in 18 of its last 20 games—ironically losing the two exceptions in regulation—is going to turn its trends to the positive.
The game started very much as expected. San Jose managed nine shots on net to seven for St. Louis, but Chris Stewart ripped a shot over Niemi's shoulder for the only score.
Then in the second period of their third game in 75 hours, the Sharks found another gear. It finally bore results 62 seconds after they gave up a second goal to David Perron on a legal kick-in. New forward Brent Burns, moving up from the blue line to join Scott Gomez and James Sheppard, slapped home a one-timer from the high slot for his first of the 2013 NHL season.
San Jose kept the pressure on, but in the final 10 seconds let it slip away. A non-threatening attacker, Barret Jackman, put a non-threatening backhand from the high circle on net. Niemi kicked it right to Chris Porter, who put his first home with 6.8 seconds left before the open side could be covered.
It could have been a back-breaking score for the Sharks. Out-shooting an opponent 19-10 but getting out-scored 2-1 to fall behind two goals could have made them abandon the game plan.
But they came out battling in the third period. St. Louis was playing to hold the lead with two forwards backing up a chip-in or challenging in the neutral zone. But finally San Jose drew two penalties in about a minute, and Dan Boyle needed just four seconds to slap home a goal with the two-man advantage.
They kept the pressure on and had a 10-3 shot edge in the final stanza until Jackman was able to tip the puck toward Stewart for the center-ice, empty net goal. Even after that, the Sharks got three more shots on goal for a 41-21 edge throughout the contest, with a 75-44 edge in attempts.
They had the edge in most other categories, as well. The Blues lost four more draws, had the same number of takeaways and two more giveaways. Despite the possession and shooting advantage, the Sharks registered one more hit and were had similar ratios of blocks to opposition shots (two percent lower) and attempts (3.5 percent higher).
They just cannot score. Until they solve this problem, they are not a threat to win the Western Conference. Captain Thornton chose to focus on the team's play:
I thought it was one of our most complete games of the year. If we continue to play like that we're going to win a lot of games.
The three stars of the game:
- Stewart had the first and last goal on four shots (nine attempts) with a block.
- Jackman set up two goals, had two shots, three blocks and three hits.
- Allen had 39 saves in 41 shots—nine more than the Blues had given up all season—for a .951 save percentage.