The San Jose Sharks hadn’t had a lead for 348:33 before Tim Kennedy scored on a fluky slapshot in the third period. The Bay Area as a whole hadn’t won a game since the night before the Super Bowl, and when St. Louis held a 1-0 advantage in the first period I began to wonder if a Bay Area squad would ever win again.
Sure it was a little gloomy of me, but I wasn’t going to change my name to Hopeless Sports Guy (@Hopeless_Sports) until after this game was over. The Blues were the definition of travel weary — after beating the Canucks on Sunday night they were scheduled to fly out Monday morning, but mechanical issues on their charter held them at the airport all day. They didn’t get into St. Louis until 6:30 this morning, so while the Sharks were in for a pride-fueled fight early in the game, the Blues were sure to wear down by the third period.
It was Joe Thornton who tied the game in the second frame and aside from Ryane Clowe, I can’t think of a better person to get on the score sheet. He scored it by lurking beside the crease and waiting for the rebound; you know, the basic parameter for San Jose to win games early in the season and — imagine that — something they’ve been getting away from lately.
Then it was Tim Kennedy who scored his second goal in as many games. The first was a highlight reel-type that’ll probably go forgotten because it came in a loss to the Blackhawks (or as I like to call it, “the Torrey Mitchell”). This one however, while not as pretty, was much more memorable. It represented the game-winning goal, spelling a seven-game losing streak worse than any the Sharks have seen in the Thornton Era.
What was most impressive was what the lead-changing tally did for the Sharks. With over six minutes left in the game, San Jose had to weather an aggressive storm from the Blues, and the Sharks matched force with force. The best of the lines out on the ice for the final ticks was the second — Logan Couture was a puck hound, and he was complemented well by Clowe, who had about as dynamite a chance as anyone could ask for and still couldn’t find the wickets. Sometimes hockey is just unkind, and it’s toying with Clowe‘s emotions this season.
One man overlooked in all of the Sharks’ struggles is Antti Niemi, who has been outstanding this season and even throughout the losing streak. Niemi is eighth in the league in save percentage (.933) and seventh in goals against average (1.86). He’s allowed two or fewer goals in four of the seven games the Sharks have lost, and two of those were shootout losses. Credit should be given to the blueliners as well. Douglas Murray is a heart attack waiting to happen sometimes, but the unit as a whole has been solid in front of Niemi nonetheless.
If you’re looking for lingering concerns…
– The power play laid another egg tonight against the 23rd ranked kill in the league. Both power play units have gone from cold to dead on arrival at this point, and their zone entries are a big reason. They had a lot of trouble getting the puck into the Blues’ zone and when they did, it was usually by pushing the puck deep and forechecking without sustaining possession afterwards.
– It may present a big problem come Friday night. The Sharks are traveling back to The Madhouse on Madison to face the Blackhawks and their third ranked penalty kill again. How San Jose performs against the Blackhawks may be indicative of just how far they expect to go should they make it into the postseason. Chicago has emerged as the class of the NHL and at this point and you have to figure all Western roads to the Cup run through them.
The Sharks are now 8-4-3, a game over .500 and back on track with two games to go on the SAP Open road trip. They’re coming off a win against one of the toughest teams in the West, so we’ll find out just how much the losing had to do with mind state when the Sharks retake the ice in two days.