Antti Niemi

Sharks fail to top Panthers’ JV squad

Antti Niemi SharksThe Sharks have been impressive against the Eastern Conference this season, but they didn’t live up to their 21-6-3 record in losing 3-2 to the Florida Panthers Tuesday night.

San Jose was clearly the better team, which isn’t saying much considering the Panthers were one-half an AHL squad and wouldn’t be much better even if they were at full strength. Most of us had a good laugh at Roberto Luongo when the trade deadline landed the former-Vancouver goaltender back where his career started in Florida, but the move came back to haunt the Sharks Tuesday. Bobby Lou was as good between the pipes as he usually is on Twitter, which is to say this performance automatically made him one of the greatest players in Panthers history.

(Hang on, I googled “greatest Florida Panthers all-time” and according to this Bleacher Report slideshow, he already is).

But Luongo and his number of saves isn’t the story, and neither Scott Gomez’s warm reception nor Brian Campbell’s continued booing are either. While trying not to overreact, let’s examine how the Sharks consistently play down to their competition.

San Jose has lost to Ottawa, Winnipeg, Carolina twice, Edmonton, Calgary, and Buffalo TWICE. Throw in this game, in which the Sharks put 54 shots on Luongo — including a team-record 29 in the third period — spent basically the entire third period on the power play, outshot the Panthers by 27 in the final frame and, oh by the way: faced a team that Worcester could have beaten.

This annoying happenstance is becoming a trend.

One common thread outweighed two of the biggest rarities in Sharks hockey. Not only did Martin Havlat score a goal (his seventh of the season, making his salary-per-goal average $714K this season), Patrick Marleau delivered a heated pep talk to his team when things started falling apart. PATRICK MARLEAU. EMOTION. HALEY’S COMET.

Why did things fall apart? Antti Niemi had a god awful second period in which he allowed three of the softest goals this season to Brandon Pirri, Quinton Howden and Scottie Upshall. Two of them came 17 seconds apart. So maybe Niemi isn’t truly back to form like many hoped upon hope that he was, and the lack of scoring, plus the 1-for-6 on the power play indicated a team-wide failure.

Dan Boyle, Scott Hannan and Adam Burish all stuck out on the scoresheet with -2, -3 and -2 on-ice ratios. Despite Boyle’s heroics in the final minute of the game, that pairing has been a mess. At this point, the only solution for Boyle and Hannan is to split it up permanently. Justin Braun is becoming the time on ice champion for the Sharks this season, and maybe he would be a better option to balance out Boyle’s increasing deficiencies.

As for Burish … well, we’re all wondering why Raffi Torres missed his fifth straight game and it’s starting to get concerning.

The Sharks won’t face the Panthers in the playoffs because the latter will be too busy enjoying a lottery pick, but even with a six-game winning streak under their belt, losses like these could come back to bite San Jose when the postseason rolls around. Team Teal had a great opportunity to regain ground on the Ducks, who lost tonight, but failed to do so against one of the worst teams in the league.

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