Antti Niemi

Sharks improved effort isn’t enough to beat red-hot Rangers

nyr

The Sharks looked better on Saturday night than they did in their previous game in St. Louis. They skated cleaner and fought harder. The effort level had definitely gotten a boost from the lowly product they put forward at the tail end of the past week’s roadtrip. It’s what Todd McLellan called a “moral victory.”

“The commitment level and the effort went way up,” he explained of the jump between San Jose’s 7-2 defeat in St. Louis to Saturday’s home bout with the New York Rangers.

Yet it still wasn’t enough to get a jump on the scorching New York Rangers, who completed a sweep of the California franchises with a 3-1 victory over the Sharks. Netminder Henrik Lundqvist was in his finest form during Saturday’s game, turning away 30 of San Jose’s 31 attempts and not allowing the home team to get on the board until the third frame. The Sharks’ lone goal on the evening gave them a boost as they played on of the most aggressive third periods they have all season. It was clear that they weren’t going to go down without a fight, making the Rangers late game-winning goal and subsequent victory sting.

“We’ve got to get wins obviously, that’s the biggest thing,” Joe Pavelski said, but acknowledged how good he thought the team played as a whole. “You lose, obviously it doesn’t matter. 7-2, 3-1 like tonight, it’s a loss. But the effort was there, it was a lot better.”

Matt Nieto echoed that approach: “I think everyone came to play tonight, and it’s a matter of them making plays on our errors. I think we easily could have won that game. But that’s hockey, that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

New York notched their first goal a little under 10 minutes in the first frame. Right off the faceoff in the Sharks’ zone, Martin St. Louis was left wide open to go five-hole on Antti Niemi and put NY on the board 1-0. Chris Kreider added to the damage with a wrister to make it 2-0 before the first frame expired.

San Jose had a multitude of chances in the second frame. The Couture-Pavelski-Karlsson combo absolutely peppered Lundqvist with shots. But the Rangers’ netminder wasn’t budging. Niemi got his game together on his end of the ice however, making a few stellar saves that kept the puck from passing him in the second stanza as it had in the first.

New York turned up the heat in the third frame. Things got tense when Mats Zuccarello’s attempt went into Niemi’s outstretched glove over the line. An official review took a long to time decide, but after a long, arduous process, the call was “no goal.” Not long after, San Jose went on the power play with Dominic Moore in the box for holding. Just before the PP expired, James Sheppard’s shot into the paint tipped off Melker Karlsson’s stick, and skipped past Lundqvist. The Sharks were finally on the board, 2-1.

The rookie’s fifth goal in just as many games seemed to give the Sharks an extra boost as they continued to keep the puck in the Rangers defensive zone and up the pressure on Lundqvist. Marc-Eduard Vlasic even made a killer shot that looked as though it would elude Lundqvist to tie the game up and push the tilt into overtime. But in a last second act of desperation, the Sharks pulled Niemi to make room for an extra skater and the result ended up in the back of San Jose’s net. Rick Nash buried an empty-netter with excatly one minute left in regulation to give the Rangers the final 3-1 victory. A tough pill to swallow after such an improved effort on the Sharks part.

“There were some gains we made,” McLellan concluded, “but at the end of the day that doesn’t get us anything in the bank account.”

***

Forward Joe Thornton played in his first game since sustaining an upper body injury in the Sharks New Year’s Eve tilt down in Anaheim against the Ducks. When asked after Saturday’s game how his left shoulder was feeling: “It felt like I didn’t miss any time at all. Felt really good, really comfortable.”

Thornton looked solid in his 2015 debut, despite not putting any points on the board. Of course the major area the Sharks’ missed Thornton was on the power play, and while he was not on the line that scored the Sharks’ goal on the man advantage, he said he felt that San Jose’s PP was clicking Saturday night. “Our group looked really good. Looked dangerous. So it’s a good sign.”

Shark Bytes

— Melker Karlsson extended his goal streak to five goals in five games, tying the Sharks rookie record set by Jeff Friesen during the ’94-’95 season.

— The New York Rangers are 18-0-1 this season when leading after two periods. Since the season of the 2010-’11 season, they are 121-1-6 when leading after two.

— With Saturday’s win, the Rangers improve to 22-8-3 all-time vs the Sharks. Per @EliasSports, the only team with a better record vs. the Sharks is the Buffalo Sabres. (Notes courtesy of @SharksStats)

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