DENVER – In a typical season, an NHL team would be devastated with an overtime goal against with just three-tenths of a second left on the clock.
But this Sharks’ season, which reached its midway point on Sunday in Denver, has been anything but that. The team busted out to a 5-0-0 start, but since, has won just two of its next 19 in regulation. That includes a 3-2 overtime loss to the Avalanche on Sunday at Pepsi Center, when Matt Duchene chipped in a loose puck from the slot as time expired.
Perhaps that’s why several Sharks players, and the team’s head coach, seemed at least somewhat content with their club erasing a two-goal deficit late in the second period and skating with a fast team despite playing the second of back-to-back days.
“I thought we played well tonight, to be honest with you,” said Joe Thornton, whose aggressive forecheck led to Logan Couture’s game-tying goal at 16:35 of the third period. “Back-to-back nights, we showed a real good effort. Unfortunately, we lose on a bounce like that, but the guys’ effort was tremendous tonight, I thought.”
Todd McLellan said: “It’s mixed emotions; a tough game to play back-to-back against a team that skated well. We talked about the speed test [before the game] and I thought we passed it, which is a real good sign for our team. To scramble back and fight back on the road down two is nice, but the way it ends with [three-tenths of a second] and you don’t get a chance in the shootout, that’s disappointing.”
The Sharks had been just 1-3-1 in the second of back-to-backs. They lost on Saturday at home to St. Louis, 4-3 in overtime, before flying to Denver immediately after the game.
“Happy with the effort,” McLellan said. “Pretty committed group tonight, when they could have went the other way. I’m happy they showed up and played hard.”
The game-winning goal was bothersome to Joe Pavelski. The center lost the faceoff with 12 seconds left, and P.A. Parenteau’s shot from the point hit Pavelski between the circles before Duchene found it on his tape and flipped it in.
“There’s 10 seconds left, I have to win that draw,” Pavelski said. “That’s something you pride yourself on, when you get put out in situations like that and lose it right away.”
He continued: “It feels like that’s the way it’s been going. It’s frustrating, but we played a pretty strong game and it felt like we deserved maybe a little better than that.”
McLellan wasn’t blaming Pavelski.
“That’s the way it happens sometimes,” he said.
The Avalanche players celebrated at center ice after the goal, while the Sharks players remained on the bench as the play was reviewed.
Antti Niemi, who returned to form after a rough afternoon against the Blues when he was pulled in the third period, knew Duchene’s goal was good.
“I heard the [final horn] after it was already by me,” said Niemi, who had 39 saves.
Couture had several chances throughout the night and finished with six shots, and helped get the Sharks at least one point in the standings. His rocket of a one-timer after Thornton’s nice play on a careless rim by Matt Hunwick from behind Colorado’s net made it 2-2.
Semyon Varlamov robbed Couture earlier in the third on another one-timer on a Sharks power play.
“I had a lot of good looks. I hope if I have looks like that, I can get more than one next game,” Couture said.
“I was able to find a soft spot there, and the puck came off my stick pretty nicely. Just shooting the puck as hard as I could.”
McLellan was pleased with Couture’s effort, and with his play in general of late. Couture became the second Sharks player to reach double digits in goals with his 10th, joining Patrick Marleau, who deposited his 13th late in the second period to make it 2-1.
“I thought that last couple nights he’s been tremendous,” McLellan said of the 23-year-old All-Star. “Really playing well, and hungry, and hard. Showing signs of an emerging leader, a guy that’s going to have a huge leadership role in the future on our team, and he’s starting to [emerge] a little bit more every night.”
San Jose reaches the midway point as team that is neither very good nor very bad. The Sharks have slogged their way to an 11-7-6 record, which means they’ve lost more games (13) than they’ve won. They continue to give up points to the opposition on an almost nightly basis, which is a recipe for disaster in a conference-only shortened schedule.
Couture agreed with the supposition that the season has been a roller-coaster ride.
“I would say we haven’t been consistent this year,” he said. “To be good in this league to make the playoffs, you have to be consistent. You have to bring it every night and pick up points as much as you can. That’s one thing that we need to do better in the second half, is be more consistent every single night. Individually, and as a team.”
For the moment, they seem satisfied to take baby steps.
“We never gave up,” Thornton said. “We thought we could tie this game up and maybe win it in overtime. Good character, to come back and tie the game up.”