The San Jose Sharks had a third chance to clinch a return to the Stanley Cup playoffs in front of the home fans Saturday, March 26. As is typical of the 2015-16 NHL season, they failed in front of their fans.
The Dallas Stars registered the 45th road win over the last 80 games in San Jose dating back to the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs with the balance of the stars in the photo list. The game was nasty like the days the teams battled atop the Pacific Division in the first decade of this millennium (winning all but one the current three-time defending champions won) seem alive.
There were 15 penalties called Saturday, with one fight and two sets of matching minors. Tommy Wingels battled Antoine Roussel but the game played on with edge.
When asked about the controversial boarding penalty on Pavelski that led to the game-winning goal, head coach Peter DeBoer said he understood why officials made the call they did. When asked if that call was made to regain control of a game that had escalating tension, he noted that the officials “weren’t the difference in the game. We had plenty of opportunities we didn’t cash in.”
Still, the Stars seemed to force the Sharks from their game to address the antics. Brenden Dillon mentioned wanting to “set the tone that we weren’t going to take slashes after the whistle.” Captain Joe Pavelski thought his team issued “correct response” while Wingels had much harsher words for directed at Roussel:
I was embarrassed to be a part of that ongoing fiasco the entire game. You’re allowed to hit in this game since you were a Pee Wee. He doesn’t like to get hit, and he comes after me coming out of the box. We fight, it’s fine, it’s over with and then he’s going to yap in the box, ask a fan to fight, yap at our bench, yap at our coaches—I don’t get it.
San Jose had a 12-5 edge in shots after the first period, but gave up a goal in the final five minutes when Ales Hemsky fed Jordie Benn for a shot through traffic that Mattias Janmark got a stick on.
Just over four minutes into the second period, a defensive lapse created an odd-man rush for Dallas. Martin Jones played the shot too aggressively and Jason Spezza fed it back through the crease from behind the net for a shot Janmark put into a net now only defended by Tomas Hertl.
Pavelski’s penalty came with 6:19 left in the second period, and it took the Stars just 38 seconds to score on the power play. Spezza got his second assist on a cross-ice feed to Patrick Sharp.
Meanwhile, the Sharks could not solve former teammate Antti Niemi. They showed no sign of a comeback until they were literally given a goal on their third penalty kill almost four minutes into the third.
Niemi played the puck to Benn, who sent it right to Joel Ward for the backhand into the vacated net. San Jose had the next eight shot attempts in just over two minutes, with the third on goal going in for Hertl 5:48 into the third.
The third goal seemed inevitable, but was not to be as the only other goal came from Dallas captain Jamie Benn into the empty net with 1:08 to go. Niemi made a couple huge saves to preserve the victory.
While most of the talk from the Sharks centered on their strong overall game, Wingels was asked if he had any explanation for the flat offensive performance in the first two periods:
I think it’s kind of a reverse role of last game, you play a great first 20, go into the locker room up 2-0 and taper off after that. I don’t know what it is. We’re a confident group, I don’t know what it is, why we’re not getting the results.
One problem with the scoring was the power play failing all six times the Stars were shorthanded. Pavelski smiled before answering the obligatory question of whether excessive passing was to blame, especially in the 99-second four-on-three penalty:
Four-on-threes can be a little tricky at times. Seems like you should be having a great look and more often I guess you get caught on that outside a little bit. First we don’t get the faceoffs we need or we gotta break in, can’t set that first play up that we like to run sometimes. Then we’re in a little scramble and it just took too much time…you gotta make one play through somebody and then something will open up.
To their credit, San Jose continually refused to bite at the suggestion that injuries were to blame. Joonas Donskoi and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are out, but so were Tyler Seguin and Kris Russell. Said Ward: “Every team’s missing (players), you’ve gotta find a way to deal with it. We’ve had some success without those guys, obviously we’d like to have them back.”
DeBoer acknowledged they were missed: “Sure you take good players out of a situation and there is going to be a price to pay.” However, he also made the point that every team is dealing with them and that the Sharks are confident in the players that step up.
He also cautioned against putting too much emphasis on the final score: “I think we played a pretty good game tonight,” noting it was important to “be careful, keep the proper perspective that we’ve won a lot of games over the year when we’ve played like that.”
Other than the defensive breakdown at all three levels leading to the second goal, that was true. Dallas lost most of the event summary statistics by a wide margin: 32-29 faceoffs, 15-15 giveaways, 10-15 takeaways, 22-29 hits with a whopping 17-36 shot and 33-80 attempt deficits. Even San Jose’s 8-20 deficit in blocks represented almost the same ratio of shots per block (2.125 vs. 1.8) and percentage of attempts blocked (24.24 vs. 25).
Still, the Sharks slipped to 16-18-3 on the 2015-16 NHL season at home and have not clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs because the Arizona Coyotes won again. The last game of the home stand is Monday against the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Kings, and even a regulation win is not likely to make the gap small enough to traverse in the six games that follow.