Only one player still with the San Jose Sharks has ever experienced home defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins: Patrick Marleau was in the first month of his career in 1997 and has been part of a dozen home games in over 18 years since, but was on the short end again Tuesday, Dec. 1.
When trends that literally take up more than half the lifetime of the third-oldest player on the roster are broken, that leaves the impression there is a great mountain to climb to turn around home woes before it is too late: San Jose is 21-24-5 dating back to the 2014-15 NHL season.
In a competitive game everywhere but the scoreboard, individuals often make the difference and Pittsburgh has all five pictured byteclay.com stars of the game. However, bad plays were more of a factor and are things a team that needs home wins (or division wins or wins against a nemesis or postseason/series wins…) should control.
The event summary brings the picture into focus. The Sharks carried the play more often, accumulating edges of 34-29 in shots and 75-48 in attempts.
However, they were sloppy with possessions: 28-28 on faceoffs (a disappointment at home even if rules new to the 2015-16 NHL season make that an advantage only on red-line draws) and 11-9 takeaways but 18-9 in giveaways, including a couple leading directly to scores. Meanwhile, the Penguins only had a 30-26 edge in hits but were 18-7 in blocks.
San Jose looked excellent out of the gate, but another 2015-16 NHL season trend resurfaced as a 12th game started with a giving up the first goal to an opponent before 20 percent of the game is played. Just 150 seconds in, Phil Kessel got the puck from Evgeni Malkin and tried to send it out front where it bounced off former teammate Paul Martin’s skate and past Martin Jones to give David Perron a secondary assist.
It may have seemed like an unlucky bounce, but Jones did not have the near side sealed off as he should when the opposition is on the attack so close on that wing to guard against this type of thing. The play also probably does not happen if Martin is not leaning so far forward to compensate for being beaten, though he had reacted well enough to keep from losing him.
Jones also failed to seal off the post as Matt Cullen retrieved Brian Dumoulin’s shot attempt behind the net and threw it off the goalie for the 2-0 lead 4:40 after intermission. Before two minutes could pass, Chris Kunitz advanced the puck to Malkin for a wrap-around goal that was left open by a net-minding gaffe to put Pittsburgh in the driver’s seat.
Jones stayed in and settled down to turn away 10 of 11 and the Sharks began to take over after Beau Bennett took a roughing penalty with 5:30 left in the second period. They registered a 20-10 edge in shots on goal for the last 20:24 of the game.
Captain Joe Pavelski advanced the puck from Joel Ward to Marleau in the slot with 4:25 to go. San Jose appeared to draw within one just 15 seconds later when Tomas Hertl retrieved a Matt Nieto shot for a wrap-around attempt of his own, but officials ruled incidental contact by Tommy Wingels.
The standard for reviews so far this 2015-16 NHL season seems to suggest replay review is a smart option to overturn any goal in traffic. This is consistent since it has previously helped the Sharks overturn a goal allowed, but it does seem to fly in the face of the league’s efforts to increase scoring. In this case, head coach Peter DeBoer challenged contact that is too easy to see as more significant in slow motion.
The Sharks could not score again, but the Penguins put the game away before the midpoint of the third on a power play: Kunitz advanced the puck from Bennett to Perron in the slot to take a 4-1 lead. With just over four minutes left, Malkin moved the puck from Ian Cole to Kessel for the empty-net goal.
San Jose travels to Southern California to play the three-time Pacific Division champions Friday. The Anaheim Ducks are still trying to get on track this 2015-16 NHL season and have the talent to suggest a turnaround is imminent. Then it is back home to play the Stanley Cup runner-up Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday for an early crossroads for this team.
Two wins will erase the two home losses in the three-game stand. Two losses will erase the gains of the six-game Eastern Conference road trip. Another loss at home will perpetuate the home slump. A loss to the Ducks will narrow the gap between the teams in the Pacific Division.
If the Sharks want to take the high road, it will require a tough climb over 28 hours starting Friday. If they cannot reach that next level, they will find the other roads more perilous.