Sharks Lose Again: Did LA Expose a Weakness?

Not only did Tuesday night’s loss to the Sabres extend the Sharks’ losing streak to 3, it proved Team Teal has a genuine weakness.  The Sharks lose again as they fired fifty plus shots for the fourth time this season.  Buffalo’s still-elite goalie, Ryan Miller, and a persistent forecheck knocked the Sharks off their gameplan.

Sharks lose
Is there something wrong with the Sharks? (Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports)

Buffalo Sabres Prevail, Sharks Lose Again

It was billed as a David and Goliath matchup.  The Sharks have been one of the best all-around teams in the NHL so far.  The Sabres… have not.  The Sharks are top in the NHL with 3.73 goals per game.  Buffalo just leaped over Philly to get out of the cellar with a 1.71 goals per game mark.  In terms of goals against per game, San Jose allows less than two and Buffalo allows more than three.  And then, there was the mental approach: the Sharks never entertained the idea of losing to lowly Buffalo.

The first period started as a surprise to just about everyone.  The Sharks were the more talented team, but Buffalo came out much harder.  A pesky forecheck kept a lot of the bite out of the Sharks attack.  Quickly, the Sabres dictated how this game would be played as Mike Brown dropped his gloves against Cody McCormick.    The fight seemed to come out of nowhere; but really it was all a part of the plan for the Sabres.  The only line to gain any traction in the first was Couture, Marleau, and Havlat’s.  After a flurry of pressure from the top scorers, Havlat connected for his first of the season.  The first ended with the Sharks only up by one.  The Sharks lose to the Sabres?  Yeah, right.

Then, the second period happened.  It opened up much like the first period.  The Sharks were sloppy and the Sabres were pushing hard.  San Jose struggled to connect on multiple passes and it cost them early in the period.  A turnover gave Buffalo a prime chance and Stafford slipped one under Niemi’s pads.  Soon after, another scuffle that San Jose did not need to engage in resulted in penalties.  Off the draw, Nemo let another soft one in and all of a sudden, San Jose was reeling.  The rest of the second was much of the same.  The Sharks led on shots, but couldn’t beat Ryan Miller.

Sharks lose
Havlat got back on the score sheet on Tuesday (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)

The Sharks were not respecting the Sabres, the home commentary on the game started to notice.

The third period made things go from bad to worse.  Dan Boyle was called for a hook early on and the Sabres caught the Sharks again with a two on none chance.  At 3-1, their chances looked grim.  But then, a miracle.  Tyler Kennedy, one of the rare positive performers all night, worked his way to the net and pulled the Sharks to within one.  Then, moments later, Tomas Hertl scored a wraparound to tie it.  SAP Center erupted as that speedy team that dominated the league early on re-emerged.  They were fast, they were crisp, and as soon as they reappeared, they left.  The Sabres showed impressive resilience and came back with another goal.  A Tommy Wingels superman dive tied it again, but the Sharks could not avoid the dreaded shootout.

Logan Couture was automatic as usual, but no-one else could beat Ryan Miller.  Miller really earned the win with over 45 saves.  Yes, I am going to ignore the blown goal because the Sharks did not deserve the win in any way.  They gave no respect and responded far too late.  Really, they didn’t deserve the consolation point they got.

What’s Going Wrong?

Sharks lose
The loss of Brent Burns has been tough (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

The Sharks are losers of three straight.  They have been passed by the Ducks for the lead in the Pacific.  And even more discomforting, the Pacific has gotten crowded at the top.  Four teams have at least 22 points.  When the Sharks lose, they lose close.  But the scoreboard is not telling the entire story.  A bigger storm is on the horizon.  This all started to a loss that felt all to familiar to the rival Kings.  Was the loss to Los Angeles a premonition of things to come?

Niemi Letting Soft Ones In

If the Sharks lose a game 2-1, it isn’t Nemo’s fault.  If the Sharks lose 5-4, then the Finnish sensation might shoulder some of the blame.  Much has been made of his stamina, so is Nemo’s heavy workload catching up to him?  Alex Stalock was more than capable in his first start against Ottawa.  The Senators are a talented team and the young backup showed no fear in his 5-2 victory.  The Sharks may only have ten back-to-back games this season, but Antti Niemi needs to rest more.  Goals like this will not win him another Cup.

Elite Goaltenders Standing Tall

Out of the five losses the Sharks have suffered, four of them were to goalies in the top 20 in save percentage.  Three of them can be called “elite” (Quick, Miller, and Rask) and the other two are definitely on the cusp of elite status (Mike Smith and Kari Lehtonen).  The Sharks are dumping shots on net like their lives depend on it.  In fact, their 51 shots on Ryan Miller on Tuesday was their fourth time this season they have reached the 50 shot plateau.  No matter how many shots you take, if the other goalie is good at his job, he can keep his team in it.  The Sharks lose to good goalies.  Often, they realize this too late, however.  The Sharks don’t start setting up screens until they are behind.  They need to play this way from the start.

Forecheck Killing Momentum

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Did the Kings crack the Sharks? (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

Last, the point that the Los Angeles Kings pride themselves on, a strong forecheck shuts down the speedy Sharks offense before they can get started.  Early this year, the Sharks dominated games by blowing by opposing defenses.  They were fast and their passes were deadly.  But when met by the Kings for the first time, the heavy hitters stepped up early and slowed the game down.  The Sharks cannot match other teams’ physicality, and if they can’t play their game, they suffer.  The Sharks lose if they have to drop their speed.

The Buffalo Sabres won because they frustrated the Sharks.  Those scarce moments when the Sharks dominated were because they were back to their old tricks.  But they could not sustain that level.  The Sharks lose much like their animal counterparts do… If they stop swimming, they die.