San Jose Sharks: Opening Road Trip Ends Bitterly in Los Angeles

Andy BenschSenior Writer IOctober 7, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 06:  Goalie Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings defends the net against Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks during the first period of the NHL hockey game on October 6, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

If someone were to have predicted that the Sharks' top line was going to amount 13 points in their season opening three game road trip, they probably wouldn't have predicted that the Sharks would be just 1-2 going into their home opener.

Especially considering the fact that the Sharks' top line amassed all 13 of those points in the final two games of the trip, one wouldn't expect team to teal to have come away with just a single win out of their first three contests.

However, as it stands, even though both Joe Thornton and newcomer Dany Heatley already have five points each, the Sharks are just 1-2 going into Thursday's home opener against Columbus.

So far in three games, the offense hasn't been the problem. The Sharks are averaging 3.66 goals per game but the troubling issue is that they have allowed an average of four goals per game.

In hindsight, Tuesday night's 6-4 loss can hardly be blamed on Evgeni Nabokov but when your team's starting goaltender is pulled mid-way through the game, he obviously wasn't putting forth his best effort. Nabokov, who is playing for a new contract this season has been inconsistent (to say the least) in the first three games and he didn't do anything to help his cause on Tuesday.

Now to be fair, none of the four goals allowed by the Sharks' No. one netminder were egregiously weak, but on the other hand, Nabokov failed to come up with the big save when needed.

After the Kings had increased their lead to 3-0 at 11:20 of the second, Nabokov let up the fourth LA tally just 56 seconds later. Taking nothing away from the incredible wrister that Anze Kopitar rocketed toward the net, a shot from that far out needs to be stopped. With his team already down by a three goal margin, Nabokov has got to come up with the clutch save.

However, as Nabokov ages, it seems that the former Calder Trophy winner comes up with those "clutch" saves less and less frequently. If the trend continues, the Sharks are going to be in a world of trouble.

But despite Nabokov's struggles, the Sharks were able to bounce back in the finale of their three game trip. San Jose scored four unanswered power-play goals to tie the score. The final of which came off the stick of Dany Heatley who wired a slap shot for his first career goal in teal.

Unfortunately for the Sharks, their backup goaltender Thomas Greiss allowed one of the weakest goals you'll ever see an NHL goaltender give up just 0:26 after Heatley had tied the game.

After a face-off in the Sharks' zone, Kings right-wing Teddy Purcell picked up a loose puck in the corner and from behind the goal-line threw the puck towards the net where it bounced off of Greiss' pad and skipped through his legs, giving LA back their one goal lead.

The go-ahead tally came so quickly that Sharks fans couldn't possibly have finished rejoicing Heatley's master piece, but just as they were experiencing their first major high of the season, the world came crashing down as the most deflating type of goal  nullified an incredible comeback.

Now some fans may say that the Sharks had no business winning a game in which they fell behind 4-0 but when a team expends so much energy to comeback only to falter on an ugly mishap, the pessimistic thought of "what do we have to do?" can't help but creep into the minds of the entire club.

The feeling in the Sharks locker room after Tuesday's loss can't be much different then when a baseball team roars back to tie a game only to see a wild pitch by the bullpen lose the game.

Even though it is still extremely early in the season, a loss of this magnitude can linger for awhile, especially if the Sharks cannot bounce back quickly and the Columbus Blue-Jackets are no longer a pushover.

The Sharks' opponent for their home opener has already chased perennial all-star goaltender Roberto Luongo to the bench early and have jumped out to a 2-0 start to begin their season.

If San Jose can't get over this loss quickly, they could very easily be sitting at 1-3 after Thursday's home opener.

Whether or not the Sharks can bounce back on Thursday is going to depend on Nabokov's ability to regain his form and come up with that one clutch save when the Sharks need it most.

Depending on whether or not Nabokov shows he can play better than he has in the first three contests, you might see the Sharks make a significant change in net.

With backup Thomas Greiss not being the caliber of goaltender to pressure Nabokov for the No. one job, don't be surprised if the Sharks go out and sign a veteran backup much like they did two years ago when they signed Brian Boucher.

Former Boston Bruin Manny Fernandez is still on the open market and the 35-year-old performed more than adequate last season, posting a 16-8-3 record with a 2.59 GAA and a .910 save percentage.

Sharks fans will just have to wait and see but with GM Doug Wilson undoubtedly on the hot seat, he won't wait long to make a change if the goaltending doesn't improve soon.