SAN JOSE -– The Sharks didn’t make many mistakes against New York on Saturday night.
But the few blunders that occurred were enough to cost them in the end in a 3-1 defeat to the surging Rangers, who are playing well enough that they only need a few chances to bury the opposition.
From the opening faceoff, it was evident that San Jose’s effort level was much higher than in the 7-2 defeat in St. Louis just two days prior. Perhaps jolted by the return of Joe Thornton, or the presence of most of their fathers in town for the annual gathering, or the simple fact that they were going up against the hottest team in hockey, the Sharks were fully engrossed and ready to battle.
But a pair of gaffes off of first period faceoffs -– one that Thornton won, and another that he lost -– was all that New York and Henrik Lundqvist would need, as the Rangers won their 13th out of 14 and improved to 17-4-0 in their last 21.
“It was a competitive game, it really was,” said Thornton, who had missed the last four games with a left shoulder injury. “It felt like we got our chances, they got their chances, but our compete level was high and it was a good hockey game.”
Matt Nieto said: “Just a couple of mistakes we made that they capitalized on. I think everyone came to play tonight. It’s just a matter of [the Rangers] making plays on our errors. I think we easily could have won that game, but that’s hockey and that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
New York opened the scoring when Chris Kreider charged ahead of Matt Tennyson off of a Rangers offensive zone draw that Thornton earned. Kreider immediately found Martin St. Louis wide open in the slot. The goal only happened because Patrick Marleau missed Nieto with what should have been any easy connection through the neutral zone that instead went for an icing call.
The Rangers upped it to 2-0 when Thornton lost a draw to Derek Stepan, and Marleau again erred when wandered high into the defensive zone, allowing Dan Girardi to walk in from the point. Kreider, stationed in front of the net, got his own rebound after receiving a pass from the Rangers defenseman.
That was the game.
“We played pretty hard, it again just came down to a couple plays –- just execution on certain things,” Joe Pavelski said.
On a positive note, the Sharks’ were able to clean up their special teams. The power play looked much better, including Thornton’s unit, and Melker Karlsson’s fifth goal in as many games brought San Jose back to within 2-1 in the third period. San Jose killed off all three New York advantages.
The power play entered in a 1-for-19 slump over the previous four games, while the penalty kill had allowed six goals over that same span.
“It felt good,” Thornton said of the power play. “[James Sheppard’s] group got one, our group looked really, really good and looked dangerous. It’s a good sign for us.”
It was also a good sign that there were no lingering effects from the spanking they suffered at the hands of the Blues.
The aim now will be repeating that kind of performance on a nightly basis with their energy tanks full, which they should get the opportunity to do. San Jose visits the lowly Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday, and then plays the final four games before the All Star break at SAP Center.
Now with just a 3-5-1 mark in their last nine and the calendar turned to the second half of the season, they’ll need to maintain their emotional and physical output more frequently than they have been since Christmas.
“There are some gains we made, but at the end of the day that doesn’t get us anything in the bank account,” Todd McLellan said. “That’s what will matter when it’s all said and done.”