PITTSBURGH -– The Sharks started talking about playing with pride after losing to the Ottawa Senators last week, in what was probably the game that realistically ended their playoff hopes. Logan Couture and coach Todd McLellan both used the term, indicating, perhaps subconsciously, that they were resigned to their fate of being a non-playoff team.
Since then, though, the team has managed to gain five out of a possible six points. Although the road trip ended with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Penguins on Sunday, the Sharks deserve credit for fighting back from a 2-0 hole in what was the 14th day of their two-week trek, and despite being without their best defenseman, Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Although they’re still six points out of a playoff spot with six games to go, and their chances at the postseason became even more minuscule, McLellan was pleased with the performance.
“To fall behind and finish off the road trip like we did, coming back against a real good team, I thought was something we could be proud of,” said the coach. “We'll leave feeling disappointed that we left a real important point on the ice surface. Moral victories don't get us anything, but in this case we're happy with the fight that we had in our group.”
The focus of their disappointment will be an extended power play in overtime, when Patric Hornqvist high-sticked Brent Burns, giving the Sharks an advantage for the final 3:49 of the extra session. San Jose had four shots on goal and a post by Joe Thornton during the four-on-three, but the Penguins’ penalty-killers got the job done.
The shootout was over quickly, as David Perron and Sidney Crosby beat Alex Stalock, and Melker Karlsson and Logan Couture couldn’t find room around Marc-Andre Fleury.
Regarding the failed power play, Couture said: “They took a lot away. … We knew the importance of that game. We had to score on that four-minute power play.”
McLellan said: “That was the difference. We had an opportunity.”
Stalock’s performance was encouraging, as he got a rare chance to start back-to-back games. He’s allowed just four goals over his last three starts, going 2-0-1, including Saturday’s win in Philadelphia and a shutout of Montreal on March 2.
He made a stellar save on Evgeni Malkin in the second period when the Penguins were ahead, 2-0. That helped turn the tide in San Jose’s favor, and Ben Smith and Couture tied it before the middle frame was complete.
“It was the time of the game where you must keep everything out,” Stalock said. “At 2-0, maybe a third goal puts it away. Whatever you can do to get to a puck, and I got over and got in the way.”
Matt Irwin said: “Al made that unbelievable save, and it was a real turning point and momentum booster for us and allowed us to crawl back in it.”
Part of the reason Stalock got the call was due to a minor illness to Antti Niemi, but it may be time to let the 27-year-old take the crease for the majority of the remaining six games. He’s still signed through next season, while Niemi, a pending unrestricted free agent, will likely not be returning.
Playing more often helps, of course, and the Sharks could benefit from Stalock finding his consistency before the season likely expires in less than two weeks.
“I think any time you’re in there consistently -– just ask any of these forwards or other guys in the room -– you get in a groove and play a little more confident,” Stalock said. “[Niemi had] a little illness, so good chance, and try to make the most of it.”
The Sharks now have just six games left to play, three each at home and on the road. They’ll have two days to recover before Wednesday’s home game against Colorado.
“They're going to keep playing, they're proud players,” said McLellan, using that buzzword again. “I keep telling you, we'll go until somebody tells us we can't go anymore, and that's the attitude that they've taken.”