The San Jose Sharks ran into two recurring problems from the 2014-15 NHL season and one from recent history on Thursday, Oct. 30. Continuing their exhausting run of eight games in under two weeks contributed to continuing a frustrating run of blowing leads in the third period, and that continued their inability to win at the Excel Energy Center.
Thanks largely to the imbalance of pictured stars, the Minnesota Wild statistically dominated everywhere but the scoreboard. They came in a poor faceoff team and dominated an elite one 47-24. Winning the first puck battle meant they had it more for giveaways (9-4), but they still managed an equal number of takeaways (four) and were barely out-hit 14-10.
This led to a 72-55 edge in attempts and 46-28 edge in shots on goal, yet they held a 17-13 edge in blocked shots. Simply put, the Sharks could not handle the speed of the Wild.
Some of that has to do with playing so many games and some of it from simply being on the road. Some of it might even be such a novice lineup featuring Barclay Goodrow making his NHL debut plus Chris Tierney and Mirco Mueller playing with fewer than 10 games of experience each. Even Matt Nieto and Tomas Hertl have not reached 90 games including the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
In some ways, Brent Burns could be considered new. He has not played on the blue line since the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs and it shows. The broadcast team pointed out that he was in fact on the ice for all six goals (three by each team) in this game, and his repeated lack of defensive responsibility cannot be overlooked when everyone is gushing about his scoring after the blue-line transition so far this 2014-15 NHL season. On two of the goals against, he was pinching up leaving Mueller to cover odd-man rushes.
Coaches love defensive responsibility, so you can bet Burns was not out of position by design. He has over 500 NHL games on the blue line and he has to know better than to make that mistake twice Thursday. Those kinds of mistakes only compound San Jose’s fatigue and made for a difficult end to a tough but successful brief road trip (wins in both previous games).
In the first period, the Sharks were keeping up. Mueller got his first NHL goal on a deflected Matt Nieto shot with about four minutes to go, with Tierney also providing traffic and James Sheppard getting the secondary assist.
Then the Wild found another gear. They had five of the six shot attempts to finish the period and held a 33-18 edge in shots on goal over the final 43:56. For a while Antti Niemi simply weathered the storm.
Then Tommy Wingels extended the lead on a goal that probably made so many in the Bay Area happy, and not just because it was scored exactly 4:20 into the second period. He continues to show his game has gone to the next level. On the power play, he got the puck from Joe Pavelski and ripped a shot in off a moving goalie from a poor angle. Burns earned another assist on the score to remain San Jose’s scoring leader on the 2014-15 NHL season.
Minnesota got its first goal exactly 4:20 later when captain Mikko Koivu deflected a Jason Zucker shot, giving Ryan Suter a secondary assist. That score held up until 1:37 into the third period when Pavelski stripped the puck and skated in, laying a beautiful cross-ice feed to the play-making Joe Thornton to finish instead of the other way around.
It was obvious they both had fun with that, but the third period has never been won by the Sharks during the 2014-15 NHL season. True to form, they gave up two goals to counter the one scored and remain the worst team in the league in goals allowed during the third period. By the time there was 9:28 remaining in regulation, Thomas Vanek had hooked up twice with Kyle Brodziak (secondary assists by Justin Fontaine and Nate Prosser, respectively) to tie the score.
The reality is San Jose hardly had the gas to survive and earn a point. Niemi had a rare poor shootout statistically, saving one of three. Darcy Kuemper struggled early in the other net but was hot by the shootout, turning away Pavelski and Patrick Marleau after allowing the first-round score by Logan Couture.
Coming away with a point in Minnesota given what the team has endured with the schedule so far in the 2014-15 NHL season is commendable, especially given the disparity in attack time. Being dominated in attack time and blowing another two-goal lead in under 10 minutes to fritter away one more point are more troubling.
The Sharks host the New York Islanders Saturday and then have four days off to catch up on both rest and practice. If the third period remains an issue when a rested team hosts the Pacific Division rival Vancouver Canucks next Thursday, it is a cause for concern.