DALLAS – The game-changing play in the Stars’ 3-1 win over the Sharks on Saturday at American Airlines Center happened late in the second period on a Dallas power play.
Douglas Murray skated to the corner in pursuit of Jaromir Jagr, who was controlling the puck. Before he got there, though, Dallas’ Jamie Benn came over and made contact with Murray, preventing him from getting a body on Jagr and knocking the stick from Murray’s hands in the process.
Eventually, the puck ended up on Jagr’s tape in front of the net on a pass from Benn, and the wily veteran scored the game’s first goal at 19:02.
“I think I got picked in the corner. I got picked, and lose my stick,” Murray said. “I went to defend a guy, another guy runs right into me, and I lose my stick.”
Unfortunately for Murray and the Sharks, it didn’t end there. The big Swede was issued an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing what he thought was a penalty, and the Stars scored the eventual game-winning goal early in the third period when Michael Ryder whizzed a wrist shot past Antti Niemi from the high slot.
One play. Two goals. And the Sharks’ ninth loss in the last 10 games (1-5-3).
In a reversal from Friday night’s 2-1 loss in Chicago, in which McLellan criticized Brent Burns for failing to defend properly on Brandon Saad’s game-winner, the head coach didn’t seem too upset with Murray. Instead, he directed his ire towards some of the men in stripes.
“I’m disappointed that [Murray] took [the penalty], and really disappointed in the call that wasn’t made. It should have been a penalty. Absolutely, 100-percent should have been a penalty,” MeLellan said. “When you have that situation and the referee misses it, you’ve got to have a bit of a feel and let the player vent a little bit. Maybe [Murray] took it too far. Who knows?”
Another call didn’t go the Sharks’ way when they were trailing 2-1, and it cost them the apparent tying goal by Logan Couture halfway through the third period. Joe Thornton went crashing towards the side of the net with Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon harassing him from behind. Couture rushed in to deposit what was still a loose puck, but the refs called Thornton for goalie interference and it remained a 2-1 game.
“I thought it was a hockey play,” McLellan said. “I thought it was a forward attacking the net. I thought he went after the rebound.
“[Thornton] should have the right to make that play.”
Thornton said: “It felt like I was getting hooked, to be honest with you. I‘m going one way and he’s going the same way, and I really couldn’t do anything. Then the puck is right there, he’s out of the crease, I’m out of the crease, and I thought it was going to be a good goal. Apparently not.”
To be clear, neither McLellan nor anyone else in the Sharks’ locker room was blaming the referees for the loss. San Jose finished 1-4-1 on its six-game road swing, and scored just seven goals in that span. The coaches rearranged the top two lines before Saturday’s game. They let Scott Gomez out of the doghouse to place him between Marleau and Joe Pavelski, and put Thornton in the middle of Couture and Marty Havlat. It didn’t work.
The Sharks’ lone goal came on a five-on-three power play in the third period, when Thornton won a faceoff to Marleau, who went high over goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp for his 12th of the season. It happened less than two minutes after Ryder's goal, and kept the Sharks in the game until Benn's marker at 17:49 put it away.
It also snapped an 0-for-21 streak on the power play, but the Sharks finished the game just 1-for-7 with a man advantage. Five-on-five, San Jose put up a goose egg.
“We need to score more goals, that’s what it comes down to,” said Marleau, stating the obvious. “The only way we’re going to do that is staying positive and working hard and playing our system. You’ve got to work for the chances, and eventually it will come. That being said, it’s been a long time. We need it to come right away.”
The penalty kill had a rare off-night, despite a brilliant performance in the first period, when it denied the Stars on a lengthy five-on-three. The first two Stars goals by Jagr and Ryder came on an advantage, just the third time all season San Jose has allowed more than one power play goal.
The first came when Murray lost his stick on the apparent pick by Benn. The second happened when the Sharks gave Ryder all kinds of time to walk in and pick his spot to put it past Niemi.
“I think we had a breakdown, and he got to walk there to the slot, but it’s hard to see from the penalty box,” deadpanned Murray, who was serving his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
It didn’t help, either, that the Sharks lost Burns. The defenseman suffered an apparent left leg injury on a hit by Antoine Roussel just five minutes in, and Burns was seen limping badly after the game.
McLellan hinted the injury could be significant.
“Obviously he didn’t return, so it’s more than just out for a period or a shift,” he said. “If it was a bump or a bruise, we probably would have had him back.”
The Sharks coaches may need an abacus to come up with any more line combinations, as they have seemingly tried just about everything to get the offense going.
Perhaps the team simply doesn’t have the right players to get the job done? That can't be the head coach’s concern.
“We’re the coaching staff, it’s our job to work with the guys in the locker room and find combinations that will win us games, score some goals and continue to play well defensively. We are getting that part of the game,” McLellan said.
“We have a staff of four or five that have to find solutions. That’s what we have to do.”