The Sharks and Red Wings were in a Western Conference dead heat, tied with 21 points apiece coming into Thursday’s game at The Tank. Despite a win over the Avalanche on Tuesday, the Sharks’ offense was still ailing, but if there was ever a goalie worthy of providing the medicine it was Jonas Gustavsson.
Gustavsson was starting only his second game of the season in relief of Jimmy Howard. According to @fearthefin, he boasts the lowest save percentage of any goalie to appear in at least 100 games between 2009 and 2012. And yet anyone who watches the Sharks regularly knows: that certainly didn’t mean an end to the slump.
Bad goalies always seem to beat the Sharks; in fact, San Jose has faced their fair share of awful backups this season alone, every time leaving casual fans none-the-wiser. Thursday was no different, with Gustavsson making a few difficult saves, a lot of easier ones and all three simple stops in the shootout to secure the win for the Red Wings. A lot of bad shots — 25 in all — made the Red Wings’ backup look like an All Star en route to his first win of the year.
At least the Sharks stole a point from taking the game past regulation, and all credit due to Antti Niemi for that. He gave up one goal on 34 shots, and the one came through a triple screen, hit Brad Stuart’s leg and deflected off the goal post. For most of the night he scattered the Red Wings chances with ease, and it’s becoming the norm for him to get the “Cain treatment.” The Sharks have fallen fully into 2011 “San Francisco Giants mode,” and they’ve done it without losing their Buster Posey. Translation: there’s absolutely no excuse for the way the Sharks are playing right now.
— The most egregious performance of the night was Joe Thornton. I’m a pretty big fan of the one so affectionately nicknamed “Jumbo,” but his dependence on the pass (while nothing new) never ceases to frustrate. One of the Sharks’ best possessions of the game was thwarted when Thornton skated a circle around the entirety of the offensive zone, passed on multiple quality shot looks and chose to pass instead. Then he regained the puck seconds later, only to ineffectively skate himself out of the zone.
— Now that I’ve gotten my Thornton-bashing out of the way I’ll praise him a little bit. Maybe not so much praise Thornton, as praise myself for getting something right. After the Sharks’ win over Colorado I suggested Todd McLellan move Logan Couture up to the top line to wing with the big center. It looks like it’s finally happened, and it materialized in the Sharks’ only goal of the game, a nasty one-timer from the young star set up by Thornton.
— Couture IS the Sharks’ Buster Posey, by the way.
— It’s officially time for San Jose to bench Douglas Murray for good. I’m not sure what the motivation for continuing to play him is. Kevin Kurz tweeted before the game about the abundance of scouts from other NHL teams in attendance, and perhaps San Jose continues to play him because they’re showcasing him for a potential trade. At some point, the desire to win has to override a need to show off a marginal piece of trade bait though. Murray may be a wrecking ball on the check and a solid shot blocker, but he’s also a major liability in the defensive zone and a turnover waiting to happen when the puck is on his stick.
— Speaking of Kevin Kurz, he seems to be having fun going back and forth with myself and Fear the Fin regarding Gomez’s presence in the Sharks lineup. I like what I see from Gomez — he’s not going to light the lamp with his own stick very often but he’s been excellent entering the zone and setting up some pretty substantial scoring chances. Continuity has been a problem for Gomez. He was benched for several games before finally reentering the Sharks’ lineup after Ryane Clowe’s suspension. He should get better while he continues to build chemistry with his new teammates.
— Thursday, the Sharks got one goal past Gustavsson. Saturday they get Pekka Rinne. I’m sure things will go swimmingly.