Antti Niemi Sharks

The Sharks have yet to put together a full 60-minute hockey game in this 2012-13 season, and this 4-3 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues may be their most disappointing effort yet.

San Jose outhit the Blues 19-5 in the first period and really found a rhythm with their physicality. Even when Vladimir Sobotka gave the Blues an early lead, San Jose fought back. The push was evident from the line of Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Tommy Wingels, who answered with the team’s first goal of the game.

Then it was Scott Gomez, scoring his second goal of the season after a flurry in front of the net from Ryane Clowe. Gomez added another point with an assist on Matt Irwin’s second period power play goal, marking the first time the Sharks have scored three goals in a game since their February 5th loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

San Jose looked to have sole possession of the driver’s seat by the close of the second period, but a pathetic 5:30 to start out the third frame saw Antti Niemi give up two more soft goals to Sobotka to complete the hat trick, signaling perhaps the worst collapse of the season. The game was tied, and despite only allowing three goals Todd McLellan abruptly pulled Niemi in favor of Alex Stalock. Drew Remenda praised the move both at the time of the change and after the game, but in hindsight it may have been the Sharks’ undoing. The move seemed to be a knee-jerk, panicked response to San Jose’s evaporated lead, and the team responded similarly. Rather than continuing with their dominance and physicality they fell back on their heels, playing scared and ceding possession to the Blues for the majority of the third.

While Stalock played well, the move screamed of desperation. Goalies rarely get pulled for three-goals-against performances, and showing Niemi the benefit of the doubt would have been a more sensible move given the season he’s having. While a move like that usually settles down and turns the tide of the team, it had the opposite effect on the Sharks and proved disastrous once the Sharks got past regulation.

It was 1:12 into the overtime when Patrick Berglund tipped in a Barrett Jackman slapshot for the win, and it was the third soft goal of the game the Sharks gave up, this one thanks to Stalock. Dan Boyle got dominated in front of the net by Berglund on the score, and while the criticism he received for his effort may have been warranted, it was a size mismatch for the ages and a shot Stalock should have stopped.

While it’s promising to see the Sharks score three goals in regulation, their offensive and defensive production are like two ships passing in the night. With the loss, they’ve fallen to 11-7-5, second in the Pacific Division behind the Anaheim Ducks.

– What got into Patrick Marleau today? He was crashing the net, hustling, dangling with the puck and (!!!) playing extremely physical hockey. He destroyed David Backes early in the game, and you could argue the hit set the tone for the Sharks’ physicality in the first and second period.

The hits disappeared — along with the Sharks’ momentum — in the third, however. The bipolarity of the team has been a serious (and telling) problem this season.

– Clowe is such an enigma. He got into a scrap with three different Blues in the first period, causing trouble on a line change over nothing. If it wasn’t for Chris Stewart’s retaliation it would have been a penalty kill for the Sharks (BAD). Then he narrowly misses scoring his first goal of the season and sets a perfect screen on Irwin’s goal (GOOD). Then in the third period he executes one of the dumbest passes I’ve ever seen, blindly tossing the puck to the high slot for a turnover and an odd-man opportunity for St. Louis (BAD). Randy Hahn suggested the floodgates would open for Clowe once he scores his first goal, but I’ve got the feeling the frustration over his disappointing season is too strong to be solved with just one goal.

– At least the special teams seems to be showing up again. The Sharks got another power play goal (1-2) and killed three out of the Blues’ four chances on the man advantage. The latter may be the most impressive stat — St. Louis is second in the league in terms of power play percentage (26.7), and after a shaky start to the season, the Sharks are now third in the league in penalty kill percentage (88.0).

– The Sharks are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games. Who’s really to blame for their struggles? It’s hard to say, as the Sharks troubles vary on a game-to-game basis. Today’s loss comes down to a poor third period effort, a rare bad showing from Niemi and a questionable goalie change by Todd McLellan. If it goes to prove anything, the Sharks’ issues aren’t solved by one big move, despite my earlier sentiments. It’s hard to imagine this season turning out any way other than disappointing, with big changes coming in the offseason.