Antti Niemi

The Sharks lose 6-3 in Columbus – the skid is becoming a habit

By Guest Contributor Kyle McLorg

I’ve often described the Sharks’ style of play to be “organized chaos.” Their scoring opportunities: frantic. Their passes: sloppy. Their shots on goal: numerous. The Sharks are a far cry from teams like the Red Wings, whose passing and execution are mechanical – yet they find a way to scrap out wins more often than not.

There was nothing organized about Tuesday evening’s bout with the Columbus Blue Jackets — it was chaos from the drop of the puck. In the midst of a long road trip, it’s easy for a team to stumble upon adversity; travel-weary bodies can certainly translate into sloppy play. But the Sharks recent travails have become more than just a skid, they are becoming an ongoing theme for the 2011-12 season.

San Jose watched a lackluster start turn into a 4-0 hole by the end of the first period. Blame on the poor start can fall on bad defense and worse goaltending.

Just how bad was Antti Niemi? He got pulled just after the 15-minute mark of the first period for Thomas Griess, who gave up another goal before the period’s end.

Momentum seemed to take a big turn in the Sharks’ favor just a few minutes into the second, when they scored back-to-back goals a little over 20 seconds apart. The goals came from Joe Thornton and Logan Couture. But a huge 4-minute penalty on Ryan Clowe for cross-checking and unsportsmanlike conduct destroyed whatever momentum the Sharks had, and a goal late in that penalty kill closed the door on any chance the Sharks had to get back in it.

Columbus piled on with a sixth goal early in the third period, Jeff Carter’s third – successfully completing a hat trick on his 500th career NHL game.

Logan Couture did his best to bring the Sharks back into it at around the 8-minute mark in the third, deflecting a slap shot from Joe Pavelski at the point. Then Jamie McGinn seemed to have notched another one moments later, but the goal was called off for a high touch.

The late push would ultimately prove useless, as the Sharks lost a game that they should have won: 6-3 Blue Jackets.

To put this loss in its proper perspective, consider:

–The last time the Blue Jackets scored 4 goals in a game was January 17th. The Sharks gave up 4 goals to Columbus in the first period alone — the first time Columbus has accomplished that feat since 2003.

–The Blue Jackets haven’t scored 5 goals all season. They scored their fifth in the second period and a sixth in third.

–The Sharks have given up 3 or more goals in nine straight games.

–The Sharks record is 31-20-7 after the loss. They hold a tenative lead in the Pacific Division, hinging on the outcome of the Coyotes-Kings game on Tuesday night. The Blue Jackets? 18-35-7. The worst team in the Western Conference.

–If losing to the worst team in the Western Conference isn’t bad enough, don’t forget that the Sharks lost to the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Carolina Hurricanes,  on Friday.

–Should the Sharks fall out of first place in the Pacific Division, they will plummet from the 3rd to either the 7th or 8th seed in the Western Conference, depending on how other matchups turn out.

Needless to say this loss leaves very little margin for error moving forward. There’s simply no way to spin the Sharks’ recent performances into something positive. The goaltending is suddenly very shaky, if not downright terrible at times. The defense is playing sloppy, undisciplined hockey and the special teams — particularly the penalty kill (ranked 27th) — have been awful. When you get called on seven penalties and your opponent scores on three of them, chances are high that you are walking away a loser. The same goes for the Sharks 3rd-ranked power play, which went 1-for-4 on the night. Special teams simply must perform better.

It doesn’t get any easier. The Sharks visit Toronto on Thursday, then Nashville and Minnesota before returning to HP Pavilion on Feb. 28 to face the Philadelphia Flyers. If they don’t find a way to right some of their glaring deficiencies now, they may play themselves right out of a playoff bid.

You can find more of Kyle McLorg’s writing at Ruthless Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Ruthless_Sports.

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