WINNIPEG – Love them or hate them, shootouts have become a vitally important factor in determining the NHL standings.
In the shortened 2013 season, no team gained the extra point from the skills competition more than the Sharks, who won eight of their 25 games via the shootout.
This season, they are becoming a colossal headache.
After losing leads of 2-0 at the first intermission, 3-1 in the second period and 4-3 late in the third, the Winnipeg Jets’ Andrew Ladd scored on Antti Niemi in the tiebreaker, while Logan Couture, Tommy Wingels and Dan Boyle all failed against Ondrej Pavalec. The Sharks are now just 1-4 in shootouts, and in a stacked Pacific Division that is sure to be tight all season, those extra points left on the board could be costly.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Shootout defeat puts Sharks' losing streak at five]
The Sharks' shooters are now just 3-for-17 in shootouts over five games. Couture has all three successful conversions, and is 3-for-5 overall.
Is there anything the Sharks’ coaching staff can do to reverse the recent results?
“We practice it probably too much now. We’ve created a whole bunch of different situations and we’ve gone to different guys, they’ve got to score,” Todd McLellan said. “There isn’t magic. You’ve got to beat the goaltender. Right now, there’s too much pressure on Niemi in a shootout to be perfect.”
There are other areas of concern, too, as San Jose dropped its fifth straight game, although it has gained points in four of those (0-1-4). Defensively, the Sharks continue to make costly errors; Niemi allowed four goals for the fourth time in the last five games; and the Sharks were outshot 46-34 by a team that entered the game in last place in the Central Division.
The Sharks' work ethic, sited as a problem by head coach Todd McLellan after Thursday’s ugly 4-2 loss to Vancouver, was better. But they are still without a win since Oct. 27 in Ottawa two weeks ago.
“We made strides as far as the competitiveness. I still don’t think we were at our best,” McLellan said. “I thought we looked slow, especially to retrieve pucks. They are a very quick team and they exposed some of our speed issues in certain areas that will have to get better. The goals they scored, we’d sure like to have a couple of them back, but full marks to them.”
Joe Thornton said: “We still got loose a couple times out there."
On Sunday, some of the mistakes included Matt Irwin having his shot blocked my Matt Halischuk, leading to a two-on-one the other way in which Micahel Frolik scored to make it 2-1. Later, Mike Brown didn’t get a puck deep and that resulted in a lengthy shift by the Jets that was capped by Dustin Byfuglien making it 3-2.
Trying to hold on, Ladd got free in the offensive zone and whacked in a pass from Bryan Little with just 1:43 to go in regulation.
“Probably a missed coverage. Probably would have wanted to block that, but it went through us,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said.
Thornton said: "With two minutes left in the game, you want to get the two points. Just unable to finish right now.”
Offensively, things were better, as the Sharks scored two even strength goals and a pair of power play goals by Boyle. Until the mistakes in the defensive zone are fixed, though, the team will continue to scuffle.
“It’s a few games in a row we’re not happy with our effort and execution,” said Tommy Wingels, whose second period goal gave the Sharks a 3-1 lead. “We’re going to have to find a way to turn it around, and do that immediately.”
Boyle said: “I think the work ethic was there, unfortunately we made some mistakes, and they made us pay. They played a pretty good game. We had the lead a bunch of different times, and gave up a tying goal as many times. It’s unfortunate.”
The tying goal is so much more unfortunate when you can't win in the shootout.