SAN JOSE – Maybe the Sharks were tired, playing their seventh game in 12 days on Monday night against Philadelphia.
Maybe they were a little too comfortable in the standings, trailing Anaheim by a significant margin, but enjoying a large gap in front of Los Angeles.
Maybe they were looking ahead to that three-week break a few days early, when the league shuts down for the Olympics this weekend.
Whatever it was, the Sharks were outhit, outhustled, outplayed, outworked and out-everythinged in arguably their poorest effort of the season in a 5-2 loss to the Flyers.
It was that ugly.
“I didn’t think we played well tonight, to be honest with you,” said Joe Thornton, playing the role of both team captain and Captain Obvious. “I thought we were fortunate to be up 2-1 going into the third. Then a couple strange ones, and they took the game right over then.”
Strange is being generous, as the Sharks saw that 2-1 lead after 40 minutes turn into a 4-2 deficit before the four-minute mark of the third. First, Matt Read’s bad-angle shot nicked Matt Irwin’s stick and beat Antti Niemi to the far side. Then, Niemi allowed a juicy rebound to fourth-liner Michael Raffl, for an easy conversion. The Flyers capped the furious spurt with Claude Giroux’s wrist shot that was the result of Irwin’s bad turnover and Niemi’s leaky glove side.
Blowing the lead was just a matter of time, though, as the Sharks didn’t deserve to be ahead after the second period, anyway.
“We broke the cardinal rule. When you get outworked and you get outnumbered all over the rink, you’re going to lose. It’s as simple as that,” Todd McLellan said. “I don’t have any other explanation or excuse for it. I thought they were harder than they were in all facets of the game.”
Irwin said: “They made us turn the puck over and a lot has to do with what they did well. But, at the same time, that’s unacceptable for us. We’ve got to find a way to move forward.”
In the second intermission, the Sharks were aware of their soft performance up to that point, as they had just 13 shots on goal. If they were going to hang on and win, it would have to be ugly.
Ugly wins typically occur when the goaltender is on his game, though. Niemi wasn’t.
The loss was hardly all on his shoulder pads, but Niemi’s performance was much to be desired, and he departed after Giroux’s goal in favor of Alex Stalock. It was the fifth time this season he's gotten the hook.
“It’s a team-wide issue,” McLellan said. “Yeah, Nemo’s got to stop some of those. It’s as simple as that. But, even in the second period we weren’t the better team. We were playing with fire. It was a matter of time. If we were going to continue to play that way, we were going to get burned. And, we did.”
The Sharks failed to build off of a hard-fought 2-1 win over Chicago on Saturday, despite the first career two-goal game from rookie Matt Nieto. They have still scored just four goals in their last five games.
Unless things change in the final two games before the break, home matches against Dallas and Columbus, the Sharks will risk going into the break ice cold. They’ve lost four of their last five, all in regulation, needing a shootout against the Blackhawks in the one victory.
“I thought we could bounce back after playing against Chicago, and have a really good, hard effort against a team that competes hard,” McLellan said.
“We didn’t get it. Back to work tomorrow, and we better get it the next two.”