Friday, January 16, 2009

Sharks Burned by Flames for First Home Loss in 11 Months

The San Jose Sharks last regulation loss at HP Pavilion in a regular season game was Valentine's Day, 2008. So you might title Thursday night's effort Love's Labours Lost.

During the broadcast, Drew Remenda and Randy Hahn commented that, before the game, Calgary said, "someone's going to beat (San Jose) here—it might as well be us." When the Flames were hanging on to a one-goal lead late in the game, they wondered aloud whether the Flames were prophetic.

The game started out well enough for the Sharks. On the game's second shift, Dan Boyle took an outlet pass from Joe Pavelski and skated it into the offensive zone before dumping the puck into the corner. Milan Michalek forechecked to get the puck free, and Boyle passed it from behind the net to Ryan Clowe on the inside edge of the faceoff circle to Miikka Kiprusoff's stick side.

Before Clowe let it fly, Boyle had both hands raised in the air. Exactly one minute into the game, the Sharks had a 1-0 lead.

Calgary's Craig Conroy answered early in the second. Adrian Aucoin's shot from the point caromed around in front of Evgeni Nabokov until finally Conroy was able to put it home 2:02 into the period.

Joe Thornton had a rebuttal less than four minutes later. He took a pass from Devin Setoguchi and skated into the slot, never even looking to pass for a change, even with Patrick Marleau headed toward the net on the wing. His wrist shot ripped the twine from between the faceoff dots on Kipper's stick side; Boyle got the secondary assist.

But after Calgary evened up the score on a Daymond Langkow power play goal, Joe took a foolish penalty that may have cost the Sharks the game. With a man in the box, Rene Bourque cross-checked Joe and got exactly what he wanted—a retaliation that put the Sharks' best player in the box.

Thus, when Corey Sarich took another penalty 50 seconds later, the key to the Sharks power play could not help his team cash in on 29 seconds of five-on-three or the remaining 41 seconds of the one-man advantage.

This is not the first time a thug team has taken a shot at Joe and then known they did not have to worry about killing penalties. Anaheim did it in the teams' second matchup en route to their first win of the season, a 4-0 drubbing.

There are two successful ways teams respond to opponents taking runs at their stars: score on the power play like Detroit does, or knock out someone's teeth like the Flames or Ducks would.

The Sharks cannot do the former without Joe. That highlights another problem I talked about in my previous article: if teams shut down Joe's line, as we have seen them do time and time again in the playoffs, the Sharks are dead in the water.

And they seem unwilling to respond the other way. Even with Jody Shelley back in the lineup and tough guy Brad Staubitz out there to boot, the Sharks allowed the Flames to take liberties with their players without retaliation, even when it was clear that the referees were swallowing their whistles all night.

Bourque took a boarding penalty for hitting Derek Joslin from behind, but got only two minutes and no knuckle sandwiches. Derek Roy shot a puck at Evgeni Nabokov on a whistle and faced no consequence beyond posturing. Kiprusoff pulled Joe's skate out from under him, sending him face first into the ice...nothing.

Trust me, if David Koci's triple cross-check and gloved punch to the face in a game wherein the outcome was already decided Tuesday had met with an ungloved punch to a now-broken nose, instigators would think twice about messing with the Sharks.

Don't threaten to toss the gloves, do it. Especially if you are Alexei Semenov or Shelley, and having you tossed from the game will not greatly affect the team's chances of winning. That's what you are there for!

In a close game, Joe needs to either let someone else fight his battles or let the referee whistle give his team a man advantage. Then he needs to make the play that makes them pay.

That one goal would have kept this streak alive, but it never happened. Instead, the Sharks went into the third period tied and Dion Phaneuf shot a puck off Marc-Eduoard Vlasic's stick and past a surprised Nabokov for the game winner with about four minutes left.

One of the other things that hurt the Sharks was the departure of Rob Blake. A puck ramped up his stick and into his face with about four minutes left in the first. The team is being very tight-lipped about what the subsequent injury is: according to the team website, the resulting examination was "positive" and more information would be forthcoming.

Without Blake for the last two periods, the Sharks handle on the game slipped away. The team had to rely on over 30 minutes out of Vlasic and Boyle, and had lost a key man on the point in the power play.

Again, one must question the team's depth. The air of invincibility at home is dispelled, and the Sharks have only won three road games over teams that are solidly playoff-bound. The first was at Philadelphia at a time when the opponents had only one win, the second was over Chicago in November, and the other was over Vancouver last week.

That is not the mark of a team ready to win Lord Stanley's Cup. San Jose has a chance at redemption over the other team who most recently embarrassed them, as Detroit comes to town Saturday.

This is a must-win for the Sharks, since Detroit will be playing their third game in California in four days. The Sharks will be on their third game in California in five days...all at home.

If you can't beat the second-best team in the conference at home when you need to bounce back and you have that kind of advantage, you are the second best team in the conference.

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