The San Jose Sharks welcomed the young Edmonton Oilers into HP Pavilion, looking to stop their five-game slide. This matchup couldn't have been more of an opportunity against the Oilers, who sit dead last in the Western Conference at 14-21-7 for a meager 35 points through 42 games played.
The Sharks have feasted on the Oil this season, outscoring Edmonton to the tune of 12-5 through three contests. Antero Niittymaki beat the Oilers for those three wins, posting a solid 1.67 goals against average.
The Oilers came into the HP Pavilion with struggles of their own, having won only two of their last 13 contests. After ending a seven-game slide of their own on a 2-1 home win over the Islanders, the Oilers dropped another two in a row before visiting San Jose.
Despite the Oilers' struggles and last-place standing, this team is talented with young hungry players that work hard and bring energy every night.
Lacking true star firepower, this Oiler team cannot rest off their power-play laurels and half-heart-it even strength. The Oilers had scored 75 on-five goals coming into the game, while the Sharks had just 72 even-strength tallies.
The Sharks' slide has been the longest since dropping six in a row in the middle of March, and it's primarily been a lack of offense to blame. The three-time Pacific Division champions are currently 12 points out of first place, with just 38 games remaining.
Logan Couture could not play after the Colton Orr knee-on-knee collision vs. the Maple Leafs. The Sharks welcomed back Joe Pavelski, who had missed his last eight games due to a lower body injury.
Devan Dubnyk would get the nod in net for the Edmonton Oilers, instead of Khabibulin, who has never had much success against the Sharks.
For those fans looking for a completely different Sharks team, you would not be disappointed, because the Sharks pretty much took it to the Oilers early on. But instead of taking a lead into the third period and completely collapsing, the team decided to just cut to the chase.
The Sharks dictated play early, missing on several near goals or rebounds just barely out of reach. The Oilers struggled against the cycle down low and looked overwhelmed during several stretches.
Ryane Clowe took exception at Theo Peckham taking several hacks on Dany Heatley just above the crease at 6:38 of the first period. Emotions from the Colton Orr dirty hit, frustrations from the losing streak and anger from the Canuck embarrassment boiled over for the winger.
Ryane Clowe beat Theo Peckham like a drum, only pausing to remove Peckham's helmet before the fight mercifully ended.
Clowe limped off after being nicked by a skate before the fight and returned and played angry all night. Clowe's leadership and fire was truly awesome tonight. Not only did he come to Heatley's defense, he would play huge against the boards and in front, he got hurt, returned and delivered a big hit on his first shift back.
Think that's the kind of leadership this team has needed?
The first period was a dominating one by the San Jose Sharks, but it seemed as though all the near goals started to take their toll on the team's confidence. Multiple times the Sharks would enjoy some prime scoring chances in the slot, but would either miss the net or barely miss the rebound.
Dany Heatley completely missed his defensive assignment, leaving Andrew Cogliano with just too much time. Liam Reddox skated the puck from behind the net and, from the top of the left circle, passed the puck down low to Cogliano. Cogliano walked in and had just about as much time as any shooter would need as he calmly went high on Niittymaki at 15:34 of the first period.
Antero Niittymaki had zero chance on this goal, given the amount of time and space Cogliano had.
Dustin Penner capitalized on Antero Niittymaki tripping over the net early in the second period and buried his shot, pushing the lead to 2-0.
The Sharks continued to dictate play and get some great scoring chances late into the second.
Heatley had some awesome looks late in the second, but he cannot buy a goal right now, scoring just one goal in his last 14 games.
For the San Jose Sharks right now, when it rains, it's a hurricane of bad bounces, bad luck and dumb mistakes.
Any of those three would apply shortly thereafter as the rookie Hall skated into the Sharks zone, and Niclas Wallin just fell. He wasn't decked; he wasn't tripped; free of any interference, Wallin just fell flat on his face.
Taylor Hall skated into the offensive zone past a prone Wallin and snapped a shot that just barely snuck past Niittymaki, extending the Oiler lead. After a video review, the goal stood and that instantly killed the momentum and push.
A reckless Linus Omark high-sticking penalty late would lead to more frustration with more great chances, but no goals on the power play. With 28 saves over two periods, Dubnyk just looked huge to the Sharks, and it showed.
The Sharks would make a push towards the end of the second period, only to have every effort rebuked by Dubnyk.
Many of the fans began leaving after the second period. The third period began with a markedly emptier-looking Shark Tank, a fact not lost on the team after the game.
Joe Thornton finally got the Sharks on the board early in the third, on a pretty-looking play from Heatley and Marleau.
The Oilers pushed the lead back to three when Omark shoved home a rebound at the 9:14 mark. Clowe added a token power-play goal with 48.7 seconds remaining, with little to no fanfare behind the foghorn.
An empty netter would provide the salt in the wound after Heatley was crosschecked into Dubnyk, and a Pavelski goal was nullified.
What else is there to say in yet another loss which seemed so lopsided? The Sharks outshot, out-hit, dominated the faceoff dot and took play to the Oilers, and yet could not net results.
Just about everything but the offense, and that's what's agonizing about this team. They dominate in multiple areas, but when it comes to the moment of truth, someone is playing too hard and making mistakes. Plenty of blame to go around in this department.
It's one thing when people nationally question your team's leadership, it's quite another when members in the organization start to mention that word with regularity.
What didn't work
Joe Pavelski was just a bit off tonight and not his usual self, which was to be expected. He had a ton of blocked shots, passes deflected and just didn't have his usual timing, but did help on the power play. His ability to man the point really helps the power play get chances and him getting back into the swing of things will pay off.
Vlasic being told to go screw himself in not so many words by Devorski behind the net on the video review goal by Hall late in the second: Vlasic was chirping about the non-goal and didn't listen the first three times, funny stuff.
Are the Sharks going to make the playoffs?
With the Colorado Avalanche sitting right at the eight seed, with a total of 50 points and 44 games played, the Sharks are, of course, still within reach, currently in a three-way tie with the Wild and the Kings, who have both played fewer games than the Sharks; they all sit three points back.
With 38 games, 18 of which are at home, the Sharks are approaching this season's expiration date.
With the ever-tight Western Conference and a projected point total of 95 to secure a playoff berth, the Sharks need to snap out of it quickly. March is a forgiving month with 10 of the 14 contests played at the HP Pavilion. The offense has got to get going sometime, hasn't it?
But who knows if this team will still be in the hunt by then? Further, who wants this team to be playing at home right now given their fifth home loss straight and losing nine of the last 12 at home?
What trades are coming down the pipeline? What moves will be made?
Although the team is still in the hunt, those things shouldn't be a concern for this team right now. Looking at the big picture of this season is no longer applicable; this team does not have the luxury of looking at things monthly, or even weekly, for that matter.
This team needs to focus on a day-to-day, shift-by-shift basis and put together the effort and play to put themselves back where they need to.
And now for the question that many Shark fans have muttered under their breath, pushed to the back of their mind, refused to believe.
Is this team what its standings reflect? Is this team just not that good anymore? Has the window already closed on this core's championship vision?
It takes more than world class talent and ability to win in the NHL, looking at a team like the New Jersey Devils who went from first to last in a heartbeat. Their season is an obvious reminder to the parity that exists in this league.
That the fall from a contender to a cellar dweller just isn't as far as some may think it is in today's NHL.
So what is wrong with the San Jose Sharks? While many experts nationally continue to point to a void at the leadership position and the top heavy nature of the roster, that's just too easy. When $21 million of your salary cap is locked up in three contracts with no movement clauses, assigning blame is just too obvious.
There's plently of blame to pass around, but really does the team need to worry about that? Lots of effort with no results, when will that change?
Coach Todd McLellan took responsibility in post-game interviews, that he was the man responsible for getting the team ready to play. Refreshing speech from a coach not known as the most accountable when the chips were down.
I'm glad that McLellan stepped up and took some accountability, but now he's got to do something about it. Yes he doesn't play, but he is the coach and as such, responsibility falls directly at his feet first and foremost.
"Maybe some guys need to watch a few games," McLellan said in postgame comments.
The team right now looks nothing like the playoff one last year, the one that had bad break after bad break go against them and still rose up to take control of their own destiny.
The Sharks need to wake up, and remember who they are, who they were last year and who they can become this year.
Before it's too late.