NHL

Sharks continue to “fight back,” but when will it lead to wins?

This isn’t the first time this season I’ve sat down to write about the Sharks pushing back late in a game to come from behind, and falling just sort of a victory despite improving as the game goes on.

Such was the case with the contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. They fell prey to a slow start and some bad calls. Then they got their skates under them, played up to the Bolts’ level, and rallied back from a 4-1 deficit in the third frame to come just inches away from tying the game up late.

It wasn’t quite enough. The home team fell 4-3, dropping their second decision in just as many nights and their fifth in six games. An issue of “too little too late” as coach Peter DeBoer called it afterwards.

It’s become a theme. The Sharks have found the ability to figure out issues after a rocky first period. They do the whole “fight back” thing.

“We battled back, we had our chances there,” Joe Pavelski said, as he has after many games. “We found some energy and we didn’t quit. It was good to see.”

So the question isn’t whether or not San Jose can build momentum throughout a game, but when will they start fighting from the drop of the puck so they aren’t always playing from behind? When is that fight going to produce regular wins?

One of my colleagues asked Pavelski point blank if the Sharks are a “streaky” team. Which, the captain agreed, is a fair assessment.

“When we start winning, we win (multiple games). So far, when we’ve lost, we put together those losses too. So that kind of has to end.”

It in fact promised to be a big challenge before the drop of the puck on Saturday. San Jose was coming off a 1-0 loss to the Ducks down in Anaheim the night before. The defense was going to be tested big time, with Marc-Edouard Vlasic out for the evening — an absence defensive partner Justin Braun categorized as “big shoes to fill.” And of course, the Lightning jumped on the board 2-0 to start the game off, with that second goal looking like it might have been kicked in by Tampa’s Erik Condra.

DeBoer pointed out that it’s difficult to come back from a 2-0 hole, even without adversity his team faced heading into Saturday’s game. But he then acknowledged that San Jose made the push afterwards to try to turn the game around. “To our credit, we fought back, we didn’t roll over … We didn’t quit. We knew the first period was going to be a tough period coming in off a back-to-back, and us sitting there waiting for us.”

Putting an end to the power play troubles certainly helped as well. Heck, all of San Jose’s scoring came on the man advantage — a one-timer from Matt Tennyson, a deflection by Joel Ward and a Brent Burns’ laser shot that hit the roof. Ward said that the team can’t rely on the special teams to carry the scoring on a regular basis, he admitted: “It’s a good sign for sure, on that end.”

The Sharks also took advantage of late-game opportunities. When netminder Ben Bishop had to come out of the game after taking a high stick right to the face, San Jose put back-up Andrei Vasilevskiy to work.

“You want to get as many pucks to him as you can,” Braun said. “(When a) goalie is coming in cold like that. Been sitting there for about 50 minutes, probably a little shaky to begin with. Just, try to get as many (pucks) to the net right away.”

But again, San Jose ended the game with a flurry of shots that just missed knotting the game up. DeBoer insisted that this isn’t a definite trend, that it’s still early enough in the season to remedy the slow starts.

“It’s pretty early, 20-25 games in to see. I think once we get everybody back and get healthy, I’ll have a better idea of kind of what we are.”

Hopefully they won’t still be the “too little too late” team when he makes that assessment.

Shark Bites

— The Sharks are now 4-1-0 against the Atlantic Division.

— The Sharks have now registered 30 or more shots on goal in 14 games this season.

— Matt Tennyson scored his first goal of the season on the power play.

— Last time two Sharks defensemen scored PP goals in a game: December 23, 2013 vs. Avalanche Matt Irwin and Jason Demers in a 5-4 shootout win. (courtesy @SharksStats)

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