ST. PAUL – For the majority of the Sharks’ 3-1 loss in Minnesota on Sunday, San Jose had the territorial advantage in generating most of the prime scoring chances. The 38-13 advantage in shots on goal is proof enough of that.
[RELATED: Instant Replay: Frustration in Minnesota]
But the Sharks’ power play, a strong suit of the team for the past several seasons, sucked out all of the momentum the team kept building during five-on-five play. That, combined with a stellar performance from goalie Josh Harding and a controversial goal that possibly should have been disallowed, were the main contributors to the Sharks’ third straight regulation defeat.
In an uncommon occurrence, the Sharks were more dangerous at even strength than they were with a man advantage, going 0-for-4 in eight minutes.
“The power play was awful. I don’t know if I’ve been in six years as disappointed with the power play as I am right now,” Todd McLellan said. “And, it’s not even me. I’m sure they’re disappointed in the power play, too. They’re an elite group that has come out and been a threat for a long time.
“I’d like to see two or three guys take charge of it, and let’s get going because they go out and it’s really killing the momentum that we gain.”
Look no further than Minnesota’s first goal for an example. The Sharks had a power play early in the second period when Charlie Coyle went off for hooking at 1:12, but had trouble setting up. At one point early on, the Wild’s Matt Cooke had the puck pinned along the corner boards while fighting off three Sharks, and eating up a good chunk of time while bringing the crowd to a crescendo.
Coyle’s penalty expired, and half a minute later, Zach Parise put in the rebound of a deflected Marco Scandella shot.
“Five-on-five we looked sharp, and then we kind of gave them the momentum when we were on the power play, figure that out,” Joe Thornton said.
The goal was controversial in that Jason Pominville appeared to interfere with Niemi, who clearly made contact with the Wild forward during the initial save. Pominville did not appear to be pushed into the crease, either.
McLellan was asked if he could see any difference between that play, and an overtime goal that perhaps should have counted in Winnipeg on Nov. 10, when it was ruled that Tommy Wingels interfered with Jets goalie Ondrej Pavalec before a disallowed Patrick Marleau goal. The Jets went on to a 5-4 shootout win.
“No. I can’t,” said an angry head coach. “I’ll be looking for an explanation, because before we lose our third point now – and, again, I don’t know the outcome of the game would have went. Who knows what happens if that’s disallowed? But, if we’re comparing the two, I don’t understand it, so before we get to the third one, I’d really like that rule clarified.”
Niemi said: “Yeah, I think I was bumped. I’m not sure where it happened or if they did it on purpose or not, but it affected the play, for sure.”
Regardless, the Sharks still would have needed to put the puck past Harding, who lowered his NHL-best goals-against average to 1.50. He allowed only a late Marleau rebound goal with Niemi pulled for an extra attacker, stopping 37 shots in all, including 21 in the second period.
“We threw a lot of rubber at the other goalie,” Marleau said. “He played good tonight, and sometimes you don’t get the outcome you want.”
At the other end, Niemi allowed a goal by Mikko Koivu that probably could have been stopped, after Koivu was allowed to cut to the slot without a Sharks defender there to impede his progress.
“He was coming lateral and shooting through the feet,” Niemi said. “I ended up a little deep, maybe. It was a good shot.”
If there were any positives to be taken from the game, it’s that rearranged forward lines featuring minor league recalls Matt Nieto and Freddie Hamilton, and Joe Pavelski in a top-six role, looked like they had more jump than in the two previous losses in Pittsburgh and Carolina. Nieto led all players with six shots on goal.
“[I] thought we had some energy,” McLellan said. “The day off (on Saturday) helped, but now it’s about getting the win, not just having the energy.”
Fixing the power play, now three for its last 39 chances, would be a good place to start.
“Our execution has been off for awhile now,” Marleau said. “It’s something we’re trying to address. We have the right pieces, we just have to put it together again.”