Sharks go powerless in 5-2 loss to Devils

SAP CENTER — Monday was a rough night for the San Jose Sharks, who struggled to cash in on crucial power plays in a 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils.

The Sharks went 0-for-4 on power plays for the night, including one that led to a game-clinching short handed goal when San Jose was in desperate need of a score.

Todd McLellan said his team struggled throughout, but that an 0-for-4 power play performance was its strongest performance of the game:

“(I was frustrated) with all 60 minutes, there wasn’t a lot of good in our game. … This may sound strange, our power play was probably the best part of our game, but we gave up a shorthanded goal and didn’t score.”

After a heartfelt Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.-themed National Anthem, the Devils (17-22-8) and Sharks got off to a fast and rather impatient start.

The Sharks (24-17-6) took just under four minutes to draw first blood, when center Joe Pavelski wrestled the puck away a Devils defender behind the net, causing it to skid to an awaiting Joe Thornton. Thornton quickly flicked it back to Pavelski, who found room on the right of the net to slap in an early Sharks a 1-0 lead.

Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay

The goal was Pavelski’s 23rd of the season, but the real achievement went to Thornton, who tallied his 878th career assist, tying him 21st with Nicklas Lidstrom in all-time NHL assists.

San Jose pressured Devils goalkeeper Cory Schneider, who was on pace to allow four more goals to the Sharks after doing so in a mid-October loss to San Jose in New Jersey.

Pavelski said he felt good about the beginning of the game, but said the team needs to be more consistent:

“The first five minutes was the start we want. We get the goal right on them. We get out five shots that we had in that period in the first five minutes. Then it goes the other way. They never really felt dangerous on their part, but they get a couple goals in our own net that we can’t let happen.”

The Sharks’ first goal of their night was their most spirited, as the team struggled to recapture the aggression they brought to the puck drop for the remainder of the game.

McLellan said after the game that the team is not playing with the level of passion he expects from a veteran group hoping to contend for a title:

“I’m concerned about our drive right now, (and) the life that we bring to the rink. … That internal drive per person just isn’t where it needs to be right now.”

Shortly after the goal, a holding penalty from an aggressive Brent Burns put him in the box for two minutes, and gave the first power play of the game to New Jersey.

The Devils couldn’t capitalize off their power play, but scored moments later when Jordin Tootoo and a horde of Devils ganged up on Alex Stalock in front of the net and drilled it in. Stalock sprawled out to stop the flurry of shots, but Tootoo snuck it in with assists from Tim Sestito and Jacob Josefson to tie the game at 1-1.

Irony played a big part in the first period for the Sharks, and not the good kind.  The Devils took advantage of a Sharks squad that had a hard time getting its skates beneath them.

New Jersey center Scott Gomez highjacked the puck after some sloppy puckhandling from San Jose, and found right winger Steve Bernier streaking down the ice. Bernier missed his inital shot, but cleaned up the ricochet to give the Devils their second goal in 35 seconds and a 2-1 lead heading into the second period.

The Devils would not relent their momentum, and continually attacked a San Jose defense that struggled to recapture the puck. Jersey’s Andy Greene took a slapshot from 20 feet away, but Stalock saved it between his legs.

The save appeared to awaken the dormant Sharks offense, as San Jose center Tomas Hertl glided down the ice, and shoveled a pass to winger Tyler Kennedy. A quick decision from Kennedy helped him find a wide open Matt Nieto, who one-touched the puck into the net to equalize the game at 2-2.

After almost 15 minutes into the middle period, defender Burns chased down a cleared puck, and delivered a board-shattering hit to Sestito. The hit led to Burns’ third penalty of the night and another power play for the Devils.

This time around, the Devils took advantage of the power play when winger Mike Cammalleri found himself with the puck near the goal after a deflected shot, and tucked the shot away near Stalock’s glove side for a 3-2 lead.

The costly penalties put a lot of pressure on the Sharks defense, as they struggled to recuperate on defense each time Barnes took a seat in the box. McLellan said the team needs to improve it as a whole going forward:

“Our net play (needs to improve), and not just our defensemen, our low forwards and forwards as well. … The ability to clear rebounds, take care of bodies, box out (and) control sticks is not where it needs to be. Not even close.”

Down one goal heading into the final frame, the Sharks went on attack mode as the Devils eased back into their defensive set. Things got interesting for the Sharks seven minutes into the quarter when Henrique was sent to the penalty box for tripping San Jose’s own penalty-magnet in Burns.

The Sharks continually attacked Jersey’s four-man defense, and San Jose drew yet another penalty when defender Jon Merrill hooked San Jose center Tommy Wingels, giving the Sharks a brief two-man advantage.

The power play gave a brief boost to San Jose’s offense, but the group remained answerless as they failed to capitalize on the power play for the third time of the game.

San Jose’s frustration became evident when the team struggled defending yet another Jersey attack, which saw Devils center Travis Zajac put home up a pad save by Stalock with a backhanded slapshot, giving the Devils a 4-2 lead with less than 10 minutes remaining.

After the game, Nieto said the team needs to take better advantage of early leads:

“We’ve got to have a better killer instinct to really put the team away when our momentum is up. Every game counts. Any team could beat any team on any given night. We know that as a team and we have to try to find ways to win in our building.”

The Sharks had a glimmer of hope with five minutes remaining during their fourth power play of the game. However, disaster struck for San Jose when the Sharks lost control of the puck, and allowed Josefsen and Henrique to whiz past a nearly defenseless San Jose backline. Henrique only needed a quick pass to Josefsen, who thrusted in the shorthanded dagger to seal the 5-2 win.