The San Jose Sharks finally got to make the last stop in their two-week travel through the United States by coming home for the first of six home games Thursday, Nov. 20. The wear of the 2014-15 NHL season showed in the third period against the Florida Panthers—the third Eastern Conference team in the bottom two spots in its division to have already swept the season series.
Florida had more of the pictured stars and those it had shone brighter. San Jose managed just three shots in the third period despite a deficit, power play and pulled goalie. Fortunately, the last went in for Patrick Marleau with 33 seconds remaining on a feed from behind the goal line by Joe Thornton (Tomas Hertl got the secondary assist). Perhaps it will help end the drought that even head coach Todd McLellan referenced recently to Pro Hockey Talk.
The game started out badly for the Sharks when Dmitry Kulikov got the puck from Jonathan Huberdeau on the first shift with too much ice at the point and fired toward the net, where Nick Bjugstad redirected it past Antti Niemi. It was the first score of a quasi-hat trick for the 6-ft., 6-in. 22-year old Panther—the third not technically counting as the deciding goal in a shootout that also featured goals by Logan Couture and Jussi Jokinen.
Until the shootout, San Jose answered every time Bjugstad scored. The first response just took almost 26 minutes: Marleau was open in the right-wing slot on the power play and fed Joe Pavelski in front of the net, whose two whacks at it left it there for Couture to follow and force it past Roberto Luongo.
Unfortunately, a Florida power play resulted in the guests recapturing the lead before the second intermission. Huberdeau got the kind of secondary assist the game should not credit, since it preceded a two teammates passing back and forth before Bjustad got the puck back from Erik Gudbranson and blasted home the goal through traffic.
Unable to mount an attack in the third period, the Sharks frittered away a power play and had to kill two penalties before pulling Niemi. Marleau’s goal came from the right wing to the far side low to get a vital point, but Bjugstad would not be denied in the shootout.
For the big picture, San Jose’s inability to beat the worst teams in the Eastern Conference even with what should be steep home-ice advantages being on the Pacific Coast predates the 2014-15 NHL season. It supports charges the team has poor focus and intensity, suggests they are not establishing the good habits broadcaster Jamie Baker speaks of often and costs them points in a brutally competitive Western Conference.
Looking just at this game, the Sharks played hard for two periods and lost to one hot shooter at the back end of playing 16 of the first 21 games of the 2014-15 NHL season on the road. This team cannot get the practice that some of the younger players need while older players especially must be exhausted. The Panthers are a .500 team even outside of two wins head-to-head and getting better, with some very strong core players.
San Jose did make the game easier for itself by winning 12 more faceoffs (43-31), and compensated a bit for some sloppy passing (19-13 giveaways) with a 9-7 edge in takeaways. That led to a 70-63 edge in attempts that ended up being only two more on goal because Florida did a better job blocking shots: 26-20 represents 37.1 vs. 31.7 percent of attempts and a ratio of just 1.15 vs. 1.4 shots per block.
Surprisingly, the Sharks did more hitting 27-20 and were called for more penalties (five vs. three). However, these were not of a physical nature but again the hooking and tripping calls that often come from tired or sloppy teams. They will not get significant rest or practice time until after Saturday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes.
How big will the hole be by the scales balance out? Ten of the next 12 games are still at home, where 2-3-1 so far in the 2014-15 NHL season has to be made a thing of the past.
Perhaps that is what the team knew when it made a major move on the blue line Pro Hockey Talk announced Friday: Jason Demers was traded to the Dallas Stars straight up for Brenden Dillon. San Jose gives up a veteran, right-handed shot of high value on the blue line but gets a younger, more physical pending restricted free agent at a lower current cost.