SAP CENTER — For the first time in more than four years, the Sharks played a regular season game without Joe Thornton.
Suffice it to say, they need him back quickly.
In a 7-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues Saturday night, the Sharks dearly missed the injured Thornton’s presence, mustering only 20 shots on goal and going 0-for-6 on the power play.
Logan Couture was candid in his assessment of his team’s play without Thornton:
“If you can’t win missing one player, you’re not going to go very far. Injuries happen – that’s part of the game. We still have enough players on the team to compete at an NHL level and we didn’t compete at an NHL level tonight. I didn’t even think we were close. It doesn’t matter if we’re missing [Thornton] or anyone else. Other guys have to step up and you’ve got to at least compete. We didn’t even compete tonight.”
Added Joe Pavelski:
“Obviously he’s a great piece to this team so there’s a little absence, but it doesn’t change anything we do as a group. It’s solely on the guys in here.”
Tied 2-2 after one period, the Sharks, losers of four of their last five, allowed five unanswered goals by the Blues.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
It was T.J. Oshie who led the way for St. Louis with a hat trick, including the eventual game-winner at the 5:32 mark of the second.
Oshie scored a beauty of a goal. He cut through the Sharks’ defense methodically, eluding Tye McGinn, going from his backhand to his forehand to evade the stick check of Matt Tennyson and beating Antti Niemi from the left circle to give the Blues a 3-2 lead.
San Jose had its chances to respond with two power plays in the period, but lacked cohesion without Thornton on the man-advantage, struggling to get set up at times.
“Power play was bad. It seemed like we weren’t on the same page out there for every single power play. Don’t know why – obviously [Thornton’s] not there – but we basically play the same roles on the power play and we were just all over the map.”
After the Sharks failed to take advantage of a power play late in the second, the Blues added insult to injury by scoring with nine seconds on the clock. Digging the puck out of a scrum in the corner, Jaden Schwartz found a wide-open Kevin Shattenkirk with a nifty no-look, backhand pass, and Shattenkirk buried it past Niemi.
The Blues added three goals early in the third to put the game away: Alexander Steen on the power play, Dmitrij Jaskin at even-strength, and Oshie once more on the power play for the hat trick. All the goals came before the halfway point of the third.
The disappointment was palpable in Pavelski’s postgame remarks:
“Our effort wasn’t there. We didn’t have the start we wanted. We were looking to jump on them early and we didn’t execute anything.”
The Sharks came out flat to start the game, with the Blues outshooting them 15-2 early on. It was only a matter of time before Oshie put St. Louis on the board first, flipping home a bouncing puck after a centering pass by Shattenkirk.
McLellan believed the poor start set the tone for the night:
“To a man, we weren’t prepared to play mentally or physically for the first 15-17 minutes of the game. After that, they felt good in our building and played their game the whole night. We weren’t even remotely close to being in that game.”
The coach emphasized that despite the loss of Thornton, there was no excuse for this performance. After all, the Blues had played in Anaheim on Friday and the Sharks had been off since Wednesday:
“They should have been the tired team. They dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen. They were harder, quicker, more determined. They had a much higher level of execution. The tenacity in their game was much better. In every position they were stronger than we were. There’s no excuse for us — not one.”
The scored stayed 1-0 in favor of the Blues until the final three minutes of the period, when the goals came in a flurry; the Sharks scored twice in 40 seconds.
Melker Karlsson tied the game, putting home the puck into an empty net after a shot by Barclay Goodrow found his stick, then Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead, sneaking a shot through Brian Elliot from a near-impossible angle. Pavelski, nearly at the goal line to the left of Elliot, placed his wrister perfectly past Elliot’s left shoulder.
But Alexander Steen tied it right back up for the Blues, beating Niemi with a slap shot from a tough angle as well, the shot going off Niemi’s right pad and in.
The Sharks drop back to fourth in the division with the loss, and it doesn’t get any easier for them, as they embark on a three-game road trip starting on Monday in Winnipeg and ending on Thursday in — wait for it — St. Louis.
When asked about putting this game behind him, Marc Edouard-Vlasic looked ahead to the roadie:
“…We know what we did wrong. We just have to be ready to play Winnipeg. We play [St. Louis] again on this road trip, so we have to be better than we were tonight.”
The Sharks haven’t allowed seven goals in a game at home since November of 2009…For the third time this season, the Sharks have lost four in five games. … Thornton had played in 319 consecutive regular season games before missing tonight’s game. Matt Nieto took his spot on the first line… Attendance tonight was 17,562, a sellout. Not many were left by the game’s end, however.