Sharks fall prey to “Game of Mistakes” in loss to Lightning

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When reflecting on Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Brent Burns aptly titled hockey the Game of Mistakes.

“We don’t want to make them,” he explained. “You want to clean it up as much as possible. That’s our job to not make mistakes.”

Despite the speed and competitive drive they maintained throughout the better part of 60 minutes, the mistakes were too many to overcome, giving the Lightning their first win on the Sharks’ home ice since March of 2003.

“No one’s going to be perfect in a hockey game,” Logan Couture said. “But when you’re constantly making the same mistakes every single night, that’s when you need to take a look in the mirror and wonder what you’re bringing.”

Couture, who had one of the Sharks’ two goals on the evening, admitted that the team’s “attention to detail” is missing — a problem that shouldn’t be plaguing the team in February.

“Mistakes we made tonight are things that should be fixed in Week 2 or 3 of the season.”

Todd McLellan pointed out after the loss to the Capitals that Team Teal was going to have trouble winning games if they continued to give up four or five goals a night. The loss to the Bolts was more proof of that.

“They scored five goals, and we didn’t score enough to win,” said Marc-Edouard Vlasic. “Even if it’s a bad break, you can’t give them five.”

Those five goals by the opposition put a serious damper on the positive things that San Jose did on Sunday, particularly in the first two frames. “There were moments … we thought we did some good things tonight, but not enough of them,” McLellan said. “There were moments where details got away from us, and you don’t beat first place teams like that. You have to be alert all the time.”

The Sharks certainly seemed alert at the start of the frame, maintaining a great pace and almost making it through 20 without letting the NHL’s leading offense get on the board. But with a screen in front of San Jose’s net Steven Stamkos sniped the puck through traffic to beat Niemi up high and put TB on the board 1-0 with 15 seconds left to play.

A mistake between the pipes cost the Sharks on Tampa’s second goal. Niemi wasn’t prepared for Ryan Callahan’s wrist shot that ricocheted off Alex Killorn and sent the puck into the top corner to put the Lightning up 2-0 in the second stanza.

San Jose had been outshooting the Lightning and winning faceoffs but couldn’t solve netminder Ben Bishop. The Sharks second line would finally beat the six-foot-seven goaltender. The o-line, which had incredible speed all evening, put SJ on the board when Matt Nieto found Couture in the slot and he fired it past Bishop to cut Tampa’s lead in half 2-1.

A big key to the third would have been keeping Tampa Bay from scoring more. But a defensive zone turnover just 10 seconds into the frame, leading into Ondrej Palat’s shot hit off both Burns and Vlasic, allowed TB to build their lead 3-1.

Burns got his redemption for the mistake on the Lightning’s third goal with a deflection shot skipped the puck up over Bishop to cut into the lead 3-2. But it wasn’t enough to erase the deficit. Cedric Paquette got the jump on Niemi with just a little over four minutes left to play. San Jose pulled No. 31 for an extra skater , but the puck ended up in their net anyways with Callahan notching the empty-netter to solidify the 5-2 defeat.

One thing is certain, the Sharks can’t afford anymore to let the Game of Mistakes best them. Couture summed up: “We need to get ourselves out of this if we want to give ourselves a chance to play past the regular season.”

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