NEW YORK – Hockey games begin in the face-off circle. For the Sharks on Sunday night, that’s where the game ended, too.
San Jose won just 34 percent of its draws against the Rangers in a 4-0 loss, and according to coach Todd McLellan, that number was indicative of the Sharks’ compete level in what was their second game in as many nights against a refreshed New York team that hadn’t played since Thursday.
“Usually for me, the first place I go to is the face-off circle, and we were eaten alive,” McLellan said.
“Just didn’t have the grit and maybe determination that we needed to have playing against this team in the situation we were in.”
Ironically, the Sharks finally outshot their opponent in a game, after being on the short end of that stat in the first five. They still dropped their first game in regulation to fall to 4-1-1.
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Misplays by goaltender Alex Stalock and rookie Mirco Mueller were glaring, beginning with the first goal, when Carl Hagelin scored off of a soft rebound at 13:01 of the second period. Mueller was slow to clear away the loose puck before Hagelin charged in to flip it home.
Mueller said: “That was my mistake. I think I’ve got to be harder on those pucks. I kind of misread it. I thought the puck was going to stop a little closer to Alex and he’d be able to cover it. That was my mistake.”
Martin St. Louis made it 2-0 late in the second period, but it was a Rick Nash goal just four seconds after St. Louis’ that really stung. Nash tossed a floating puck towards the net that Stalock couldn’t handle, and the league’s leading goal scorer rushed in to poke it home at 19:20 of the middle frame.
“I was planning on freezing it or moving it to the side. I did neither,” Stalock said.
The Mueller-Brent Burns tandem was victimized on Kevin Hayes’ goal in the third period, putting it away for New York. Hayes took the puck away from Brent Burns on one side of the net, skated around to the other to whip one towards the crease before Mueller could get over, and found his own rebound while Mueller searched in vain for the sliding disc.
Considering Burns played forward all of last season, and the 19-year-old Mueller was still in juniors, perhaps it’s not surprising that the pair will have moments like that early on.
“Our team is a work in progress. They reflect that. Mirco is a young player and obviously made a few mistakes tonight, but so did some of our veteran players,” McLellan said. “Part of the growth process. We’ll work with [Mueller], we’ll try and make him a better player, and he’ll respond.”
Mueller said: “Consistency is one of the things to find in this league.”
No one was using it as an excuse, of course, but the Sharks could be a bit road-weary in the midst of six of their first seven away from home. The gaffes they made are correctable, typically a sign of physical or mental fatigue.
“They’re all easy mistakes to clean up, maybe other than the second one,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said.
“The rest were preventable. Turnover on the fourth goal, the two shots from the blue line – miscommunication, mishandled it. It’s something we can clean up. That’s the way it goes.”
Despite throwing a season-high 33 shots on goal, it was a relatively easy shutout for the outstanding Henrik Lundqvist, who had gotten off to a dismal start to the season.
While Stalock and the Sharks let in some goals that shouldn’t have happened, they didn’t have much sustained pressure in the offensive end, either.
“They were bad goals,” McLellan said. “I can’t protect [Stalock], he knows that. They only needed one bad goal tonight, though.”