San Jose Sharks Stumble Into All-Star Break With Shootout Loss in LA

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San Jose Sharks Stumble Into All-Star Break With Shootout Loss in LA
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
Jarret Stoll scored the only goal of Wednesday's four-round shootout, after the first two Kings hit the post.

The great Wayne Gretzky once said, "100% of the shots we don't take don't go in." As the NHL celebrated the Great One's 50th birthday on Wednesday, the San Jose Sharks could have benefited from that bit of wisdom in their loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

The Sharks fielded another valiant effort against an equally point-starved and determined division opponent. Forward Ryane Clowe returned from a four-game injury lay off to score his 13th goal of the season. The goal opened scoring for the Sharks and tied the game at one in the second period until Devin Setoguchi scored on a wrap around less than a minute later to stake the Sharks to a 2-1 lead.

Despite several sterling scoring changes, Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick—fast becoming another thorn in the Sharks' collective sides—shut the door throughout the third period. Alexei Ponikarovsky beat Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi with a modest bid early in the third to tie the game. The Sharks were unable to capitalize on a late four-minute power play drawn by a high stick to Douglas Murray, and the game went to overtime and eventually a shootout.

It was here that the Sharks missed another golden opportunity. The Sharks had been strong in shootouts, coming in at 3-1, but the Kings were a perfect 4-0.

Anze Kopitar and Jack Johnson both beat Niemi in the shootout, but failed to score as each of them rang their shots off the right post. Niemi then stopped captain Dustin Brown's attempt in the third round. The Sharks needed but one goal, and with the quality of shooters they can field, that should result in victory at least 99 times out of 100.

This time was different, however.

Joe Pavelski got too deep on net before attempting his shot, and neither Logan Couture nor Ryane Clowe were able to get a legitimate shot on net—with Couture losing the puck moving to his backhand and Clowe fanning on his attempt. The shootout went scoreless to an extra frame, where Jarret Stoll beat Niemi with a particularly pedestrian attempt and Patrick Marleau was stopped on an equally benign effort to give LA the win and the extra point.

Sharks radio play-by-play personality Dan Rusanowsky may have phrased it best after the five-minute overtime ended when he said, "The hockey portion of this contest has ended and the game will be decided in a shootout." Certainly if I had my way, the shootout would not exist. Rather, teams would play a full 20-minute five-on-five sudden death extra period, and if the game remained tied, it would be recorded that way.

A win would be a win, a loss would be a loss, and a tie would be a tie. Every game would be worth two points and only two points, and no consolation points would be doled out merely extending a game to overtime.

The shootout was a poorly conceived reaction to the publicity hit taken when the owners locked the doors on their players in 2004. It is designed to make games "more exciting" and "grow the fan base to new demographics."

Instead it merely detracts from the true nature of the game, devalues teamwork, exalts individual heroics, and appeals primarily to casual, uneducated fans. The NHL may be drawing more viewers and selling more tickets, but when this comes at the expense of cheapening the fundamental principles of the game, one has to question its value.

Nonetheless, the shootout is unfortunately part of the modern NHL and the Sharks need to learn to win at it when necessary. With the caliber of skill players the Sharks possess there is virtually no way they should lose a shootout where the opposition fails to score on three attempts. One has to figure that had Couture and Clowe been able to get solid shots on net, one of the three skaters would have scored.

The shootout is a delicate balance between being exotic enough to fool the goaltender, while still giving yourself enough room, and composure to get the right shot away. The first three Sharks skaters failed to skate this fine line. The game re-illuminated the clear need to focus on consistent power play production (the Sharks went 0-3, including a four-minute stretch in the final seven minutes of regulation) and holding third period leads (a persistent problem all season), but now the shootout joins the list as an area the Sharks need to work on. If they play to their potential, they possess the skills to be near unbeatable in the shootout.

The loss did salvage the Sharks a point, however, giving them points in five straight games as they have now reached the All Star Break.

While they failed to create separation against the last-place Kings, the point did vault them back into a tie for the No. 8 seed in the west, setting them up for a post-All-Star push. The loss may also have alleviated the potential tension of continuing their longest win streak of the season, which could actually help the Sharks maintain focus, and balance coming out of the break (remember what happened when they emerged from the Christmas holiday having won four straight for the first time).

The team also announced Thursday that forwards Ben Ferriero and Jamie McGinn had been reassigned to Worcester of the AHL. John McCarthy's reassignment earlier this week turned out to be the prelude to Clowe's return. Could Doug Wilson have a more interesting roster move brewing over the break? We shall see.

Keep the Faith!  

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