ANAHEIM – In the tight-checking and frequently low-scoring games in the Western Conference, it often takes just one mistake to prevent victory.
When it’s three mistakes in a span of less than three minutes, like the Sharks committed on Monday night in a 5-3 loss in Anaheim, it spells certain doom.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Ducks drop struggling Sharks]
“Turnovers and mental breakdowns. That’s it, for about five minutes there,” Dan Boyle said. “Stuff that shouldn’t happen, and hasn’t happened for the most part, for most of the year.”
Todd McLellan said: “These were full rink breakdowns.”
The game was knotted at 1-1 midway through regulation when Anaheim took control. Adam Burish failed to get the puck deep at the offensive blue line, and Sheldon Souray’s outlet pass from the defensive zone to the far blue line generated a three-on-one rush. A pretty passing play ended with a goal by Peter Holland at 11:09.
McLellan said: “We’re one vs. three at the blue line and we’re tired, and we want to dangle. We turn it over, and they go 70-foot pass up ice for a three-on-one. That has nothing to do with d-zone, that’s just stupidity.”
Just 34 seconds later, Boyle was caught trying to keep the puck in the offensive zone, leading to an Emerson Etem goal from Daniel Winnik. Sharks captain Joe Thornton allowed Etem to get free in front of the net, while Matt Irwin was also defending.
McLellan said: “The next one, we have a bad pinch and they turn it into a track meet. We have a poor sort-out coming into our zone, and it’s in our net. That’s a full, 100-foot goal.”
A time out by the coach didn’t prevent the fourth Ducks goal, when Ryan Getzlaf scored shorthanded after he blocked Irwin’s shot. Getzlaf blew past Scott Gomez to flip in a pass from Etem at 13:55.
“We have a blocked shot, and we get outskated again,” McLellan said.
The result was another loss on the road for the Sharks (12-10-6), who will go at least a full month without a regulation win away from HP Pavilion. Since beating the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 19 at Scottrade Center, the Sharks are just 1-6-1, with the lone win coming in a shootout in Vancouver on March 5.
Conversely, the Ducks (21-3-4) won a franchise record 12th straight game at Honda Center, and now have a 16-point lead on the Sharks in the Pacific Division. Although, any hope the Sharks had for a division crown is a ship that sailed weeks ago.
To their credit, the Sharks applied consistent pressure after falling behind 4-1, and nearly came all the way back. Patrick Marleau’s 15th goal at 19:31 of the second period made it a two-goal deficit at the intermission, and Irwin’s slap shot off of Getzlaf’s skate at 6:48 brought the Sharks even closer. San Jose outshot the Ducks 16-6 over the final 20 minutes, and 35-28 for the game. They couldn't tie it up, though.
“We played a pretty good third period, but it doesn’t matter right now,” Logan Couture said. “We still didn’t win the game.”
Irwin said: “We were in the game the whole time, if not carrying the momentum most of the game, except for maybe that five minutes span and they got three goals. That hurt us. The guys kept going, and we liked how we were playing until that point, and I liked how we played afterwards.”
The game certainly had the feeling that it was about to get ugly when it was 4-1.
“Teams that quit, and teams that roll over and play dead, would have lost that game 7-1 the way it was going,” McLellan said. “But, again, that doesn’t get us anything.”
Amazingly, the Sharks are still holding onto the eighth and final playoff spot with 20 games to go in the regular season.
The Sharks have generally avoided the kinds of mental errors and breakdowns defensively that occurred on Monday for much of the season, despite losing 15 of 20 games coming in. San Jose began the game seventh in the league in goals-against, and it’s been the offense that has been their main hindrance during what is now a 5-10-6 stretch over their last 21 games.
Thornton, who was one of a number of Sharks caught in a bad line change in the first period leading to Anaheim’s first goal by Francois Beauchemin, was perplexed.
“I really don’t know. It’s just sports, things are going to happen, and that’s how it went tonight,” he said.
“Our game is grind them out, use our big bodies in their end, and we totally got away from it for some reason in the second for five or six minutes. They made us pay.”
The Sharks were playing for the first time since their head coach gave them a tongue-lashing and subsequent hard practice on Sunday in Anaheim. Effort was the problem against the Kings in a 5-2 loss on Saturday.
On Monday, it was execution.
“The effort was better, the results are the same,” McLellan said. “If we were looking for effort and banking on effort, it was there. But, the results are the same. That’s the disappointing part.”