The Sharks did just enough to lose versus a Maple Leaf team that had been red hot coming into the contest, having won four of their last five overall. The Sharks came into the game ice cold, scoring just one goal in the last three games.
Maple Leaf head coach Ron Wilson, well known to Shark fans recorded his 600th win as a NHL head coach.
Coach Todd McLellan would speak before the game about the slumping Sharks and speak about confidence and getting the team going at the right time.
“We have to continue to work, simplify our game, be responsible defensively and stay out of the box.” McLellan said.
Coach McLellan would dress seven defensemen, but be without the services of Joe Pavelski again, resting him for precautionary reasons. It does seem as though his return is near, and not a moment too soon for a floundering Sharks powerplay.
If you thought this game was going to be the team to provide a perfect rebound to the Sharks struggles, you would be dead wrong.
The Sharks would lose a sloppy game and lose it in classic Shark fashion: Blowing the lead and completely collapsing in the third period. Again.
Patrick Marleau would open the scoring at 10:12 of the first period, with assists going to Joe Thronton and Jason Demers. Marleau would put together a terrific game and it was clear from the opening stanza that he came to play tonight.
Down 1-0 in the second period, Colton Orr would do what he does best and that's being a complete idiot on the ice. Orr would stick his knee out and initiate a knee on knee hit on Logan Couture, about as dirty a play as you will see. Couture would writhe in pain as the team trainers would rush out to his aid and would not return.
"I was disappointed in the call," McLellan said. "I don't think it should have been a minor penalty. It's a very dangerous play."
The Sharks and Clowe in particular would take exception to Orr and his dirty play, and I've got to say that was a completely classless play.
One can only hope that Orr was stupid enough to get his knee higher than he really intended, and miss Couture's knee. Losing Couture at this stage of the game for any length of time would be catastrophic to say the least.
The Marleau goal would stand until early in the third period, when in typical Sharks fashion the team just completely forgot they were playing an NHL game. Vlasic would completely misread the play at 3:20 of the third and get caught completely flat footed, leaving Boyle on the wrong end of a two-on-one rush.
Youngster Tyler Bozak would enter the zone and dish the puck cleanly to Phil Kessel and Boyle would go down too early anticipating the shot. Instead, Kessel simply skated around Boyle like a orange traffic pylon and very easily put the puck into a wide open net behind a fallen Niemi for his 19th goal of the season.
With the score tied, Niclas Wallin would take a horrible interference penalty versus Kris Versteeg giving the Leafs a golden opportunity. Marleau would lose the draw to Grabovski and shortly thereafter, Kaberle would find a wide open MacArthur in the slot who would backhand it home for the lead.
The sequence would illustrate the differences in the teams perfectly and show how the Sharks are just not playing with any confidence right now; the calm and collected Maple Leaf power play a perfect contrast to the Sharks flopping and diving to desperately block the shot.
Much had been made of the Maple Leaf line of MacArthur, Grabovski and Kulemin coming into the game and they would strike again at 7:30 of the third period.
Emotions would again flare up shortly thereafter as Dion Phaneuf would deliver a crushing hit on Dany Heatley entering the zone. This hit was borderline blindside and could easily apply to Rule 48.1, but Heater should know better than to have his head down in that situation.
Ryane Clowe would take exception and cross check Phanuef into the boards and attempt to draw Dion into a fight.
Dion Phaneuf would turn down the offer but get caught too far up ice as Thornton would find a speeding Marleau streaking down the middle of the ice. Marleau would enter the zone, turn Francois Beauchemin around and snap a shot on goal.
Devin Setoguchi appeared to put the rebound of Marleau’s shot up and over for the tying goal but it was awarded to Marleau for his 46th career multi goal game.
Dion Phaneuf would exact a measure of revenge just three minutes later on a shot that found its way past several bodies in the crease. The goal was awarded to Gunnarson, with assists going to Phaneuf and Armstrong at 10:10 of the third.
The Sharks would almost visibly deflate after this goal and could not clear their own zone after a string of four consecutive turnovers, prompting the home crowd to rain boos down on the team.
Any doubts that the Sharks are playing desperately and without confidence can be put to rest because this team is playing way too scared. An empty netter added by MacArthur after a strange sequence, in which Dan Boyle just could not figure out what to do with the puck, only adds insult to injury.
The Sharks are playing not to lose and the Leafs are playing to win—that was clearly obvious to anyone watching the game.
Ron Wilson would add to that point in post game remarks. "Last time in here was a buzz saw we ran into," Wilson said.
"The Sharks were up 4-0 in the first period and we didn't have a chance. Tonight we took advantage of a team that's squeezing their sticks right now."
What didn’t work:
Special Teams: The power play continued to struggle mightily, what was once a huge part of this team earlier this year has disappeared.
Even through four power plays, and a whopping 21 shots the Sharks again failed to capitalize and score.
Collapses in the third period: The Maple Leafs scored three times in less than seven minutes to get the win, and the Sharks looked lost after the Carl Gunnarsson goal.
What else can the coaching staff do to get this team to tighten up when it counts?
Turnovers late in periods continue to dog the Sharks regardless of pairings, with the Murray/Demers pairing committing turnovers late in the first as well as second periods.
What did work:
Antti Niemi had some sterling stops versus the Leafs, including a Phil Kessel breakaway late in the third period.
Niemi did everything he could to keep the game close when the team in front of him continued to forget how to play NHL level defense during certain stretches.
Patrick Marleau played a strong game, backchecking, playing strong along the boards and using his wheels all night. He had multiple chances all night and answered the call when the team needed a spark or a scoring chance.
Setoguchi, the topic of trade talks recently, played an excellent game and showed up in all three zones and phases of the game.
Gooch would split time on the first line in spot duty when Heatley moved to the second line to help generate some chances. His speed on the top line was evident and his hustle in the second period created the 5-3 chance on the near slew-foot by Phaneuf.
So where does this leave the Sharks who have dropped their fifth consecutive game at home, and look lost and confused at the most crucial times? The good news is they are only really two points out of the last playoff spot, and well within striking distance of the third seed with half the season ahead.
If they can manage to gather the fight and will to put it together for the playoffs, this team will be all the stronger for it.
The question is when?