SAP CENTER — After the Sharks caught a break and looked headed to overtime, most of the 17,562 SAP Center fans let out a collective sigh.
Sharks fans made a different noise minutes later when Columbus center Mark Letestu deflected a Scott Hartnell shot past Antti Niemi with 20 seconds left in the game to give the Blue Jackets the win 5-4 Thursday.
After an apparent Ryan Johansen hat trick was disallowed with 78 seconds to go in the game, there wasn’t much Niemi could have done on the last shot, as it looked to be way wide of the net before the deflection:
“You want to get in front as much as you can and hope it hits you in the end.”
After rotating goalies for the first six games, head coach Todd McLellan sent out Niemi between the pipes for the second game in a row. Niemi (L, 23-28 saves, 2.70 GAA) struggled as he did in his last game in Boston.
McLellan said that to give up five goals is unacceptable and that the defense must improve soon:
“You give up five, you’re not winning, our defensive play right now is killing us. You look at the trip we averaged, three and three quarter goals against per night without the empty netters and now tonight we’re at five, we’re not winning like that. It’s not just one player or one line, its all the lines right now, it’s the d, it’s the goaltending, so the overall defensive game has to improve or we are in trouble.”
The Sharks opened the first period with a flurry but failed to keep up momentum for the entire game, a troubling trend.
Center Joe Pavelski said that something has to change if the Sharks want to pull themselves out of this rut:
“We just haven’t been good enough, no one in here’s happy with how we’ve been in the second half of games, I think it’s gotten better, it probably has a little bit I think, but we are getting the same result, were not good enough and it’s got to change.”
After starting the season 4-0-1, San Jose has suffered three straight regulation loses, allowing four or more goals in each of them.
Though they have had a tough stretch Adam Burish isn’t ready to panic yet:
“I don’t think this is where you pull the fire alarm and everyone goes crazy, it’s a commitment; it’s a mental thing to committing yourself to playing defense. If we commit ourselves to defense and checking, the rest will kind of take care of itself.”
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
San Jose looked unstoppable to start the game as they scored on Sergei Borbrovsky (W, 33-37 saves, 2.37 GAA) just five minutes into the game on a quick wrister by Burish. Pavelski tacked on another goal on the power play to put the Sharks up 2-0 in the first period.
The Sharks continued to apply pressure as they outshot the Blue Jackets 16-5 in the first period. But in what has been an ongoing problem for San Jose, they let Columbus back into the game with three second period goals.
The Sharks have allowed 18 goals in the second and third periods this season, tied for third worst in the NHL. All five of Columbus’ scores came in the last two periods.
Johansen shifted the momentum for the Blue Jackets as he flipped home a shot to put Columbus on the board eight minutes into the second.
Logan Couture said that mistakes in coverage led to many of the goals and that’s something they can’t do:
“They are things that we have gone over for years, they are just mistakes that we shouldn’t be making, I don’t care if it’s early in the year, late in the year, they’re just mistakes we need to fix.”
Niemi echoed his center’s statements and said that there is no excuse:
“Just making the simple plays and getting out of the zone…We know the system, we know how we play, so we should be ready every night.”
The Blue Jackets would add two more goals within six minutes to take a 3-2 lead.
The third period started out much like the first when Pavelski tied the game at 3-3 with his second goal of the game coming just three minutes into the third period.
Couture got into the act and put the Sharks up 4-3 with a goal halfway through the third. The young center has been on fire as of late with four goals and three assists in his last four games.
It was all for naught as the Sharks failed to hold the lead and Columbus scored the last two goals to escape San Jose with a win.
It will be a quick homestand for the Sharks, as they host the Buffalo Sabres Saturday before heading back out onto the road for three more games. San Jose plays nine of their first 12 games on the road to start the season.
After starting the season 4-0-1, San Jose now has three straight regulation loses, allowing four or more goals in each of them. … Sharks top prospect, rookie defenseman Mirco Mueller was a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game. Mueller has played in five games with one assist. … Patrick Marleau has six points in his last five games, two goals and four assists. … San Jose came into the game ranked fourth in penalty minutes per game averaging just over eight minutes per game, they had 15 tonight. … The Sharks are just 2-for-11 on the power play in their last three games.