The San Jose Sharks put the puck in the net three times against the Pacific Division-rival Arizona Coyotes Thursday, March 17. Had two of them not been disallowed, both the outcome and pictured stars would have been different.
On St. Patrick’s Day, it seemed San Jose was taking on a more literal luck of the Irish that may have been on par with anything after the Potato Famine. In addition to the common ringing a shot attempt off the post and the aforementioned disallowed goals came a seeing-eye, game-winning goal from behind the back line by Arizona’s captain.
For once this 2015-16 NHL season, these bad breaks came on the road instead of at home. The law of averages was bound to take over, but the loss drops the Sharks seven points back of the Los Angeles Kings for first place in the Pacific Division and a game behind the Anaheim Ducks for second.
Like Los Angeles, San Jose has just a dozen games left. The only reason making up four games (thanks to almost certainly losing the tiebreak) in that time is not a fantasy is pays one head-to-head meeting at the end of the month. Catching Anaheim (13 games left, one point ahead) for second place could actually be a bad thing given the home and away results so far this 2015-16 NHL season.
The Sharks magic number to clinch one of the three automatic Stanley Cup-playoff spots for the Pacific Division remains at 10 points. The Coyotes are the closest team and gained a full game but are still 15 points back (and seven back of a wild card with a game in hand), also having only a dozen games remaining.
The game was very active and competitive despite featuring only 10 total shots in the first period and 50 for the game. Arizona won the event summary possession statistics (30-21 faceoffs, 2-2 giveaways and 1-3 takeaways) but San Jose spent more time on the attack (28-22 shots, 65-47 attempts, 11-19 hits) and was slightly more proficient blocking shots (16-20 is 1.38 vs. 1.4 shots per block and 34 vs. 30.8 percent of attempts).
It appeared the Sharks got on board first when an open Dainius Zubrus put a Chris Tierney pass home from the slot, but they were ruled offsides many seconds earlier on a coach’s challenge even though the Coyotes appeared to get possession of the puck in the interim. Just over a minute later, the tables were turned when Michael Stone fired a pass from Alex Tanguay off Matt Nieto’s stick and past Martin Jones, and Peter DeBoer’s challenge was unsuccessful.
San Jose found its legs in the second period and once again appeared to tie it when the puck went off Tierney’s shin, but NHL headquarters in Toronto somehow determined he used a distinct kicking motion and disallowed it. Finally Tomas Hertl got his team on board when he put home a Paul Martin shot attempt that was blocked, earning Joe Thornton a secondary assist.
The Sharks held play for most of the third period, establishing a 13-8 edge in shots but unable to get one past long-time nemesis Mike Smith. It was just his second game back since missing 40 games of the 2015-16 NHL season, and he has officially allowed just one goal on 72 shots for a .986 save percentage.
Arizona’s captain got the go-ahead goal with just 91 seconds left: Klas Dahlbeck sent the puck back around the boards and Shane Doan picked it up in the right-wing corner, throwing it to the crease through traffic where it bounced off Jones, earning Max Domi a secondary assist. Antoine Vermette added an empty-net goal 37 seconds later (assists to Stone and Kevin Connauton) to seal the game.
San Jose lost both Matt Nieto and Marc-Edouard Vlasic during the game. As yet there is no word on either player’s availability moving forward. Tommy Wingels is supposedly ready to step in and would probably be an upgrade at forward, but Matt Tennyson is neither ready nor an adequate blue-line replacement if he were healthy. Dylan DeMelo is not ready for that role either but is healthy and thus almost certainly would get the call.
These two teams meet in the 2015-16 NHL season finale but go back at it in San Jose Sunday first, with the New York Rangers coming in for a Saturday matinee first. A weekend sweep might be necessary to keep the Pacific Division title within reach.