Tuesday night, the San Jose Sharks came into Dallas looking to bounce back against the Stars after a humiliating loss the previous night in Chicago.
While the breakdowns that led to that loss do not show up in the stats, (just two giveaways to eight takeaways compared to Chicago's nine and five, respectively; 20 blocked shots to eight) the Sharks gave up six goals because of poor defensive coverage. They have allowed 14 goals over a period of three straight losses.
Monday's loss opened the door in the Pacific Division. Three teams finished the day fewer than two games behind them. With just one win in their last five, it begs the question; Did the Sharks peak too early?
After the loss, the team was looking to bounce back. They got the win, but it could hardly be called a rebound.
The Sharks emerged victorious, 6-3, but the game was neither that lopsided nor was the score an indication of sharp play. As teams prepare for the post-season, how you are playing is more important than whether you win.
This game started out tight, with both teams playing scared. This resulted in fewer defensive lapses, but also missed passes. There were no power play opportunities and few real scoring chances despite 15 shots by the Sharks and nine from the Stars.
Then things heated up on both ends of the ice in the second period, with 31 shots (16 by San Jose) and 28 penalty minutes (seven by San Jose).
Jamie Langenbrunner of the Stars hit Niclas Wallin from behind into a seem on the boards. When no penalty was called, Dallas took advantage of a woozy Wallin to lead to a Mike Ribeiro wrap-around goal.
No team in the league has a better record than Dallas when scoring first, and they showed why. After Douglas Murray hit Loui Eriksson high (while no penalty was called and the consensus is on NHL Live was it a hockey play), Steve Ott took exception and instigated a fight against the Sharks bruiser.
Considering Ott usually instigates fights he then runs from and few in the league are willing to fight the mountainous Swedish defenceman, the fight was unexpected. However, the outcome was not: Murray took care of Ott rather easily once he recovered from being jumped.
Ott got the instigator penalty and was out for 17 minutes total, but the fight had the desired effect: Dallas was fired up and scored short-handed.
Joe Thornton answered with a tip-in goal shortly after the power play ended, and later in the period the Sharks Dany Heatley added a five-on-three power play goal to tie the game.
Both teams have been good in the third period of late, but the Sharks got the early advantage. Ryane Clowe scored the go-ahead goal 1:51 in, and Torrey Mitchell scored on a one-time feed from Joe Pavelski 100 seconds later.
But the Stars were not done because the Sharks played undisciplined from that point forward.
With Patrick Marleau in the box for hooking, Jamie Benn made it a one-goal game with over half the period to go.
Still, San Jose looked like they might close out the game until Heatley took a cheap shot elbow at Ott along the boards with just over four minutes to go. While the Sharks killed that penalty, Logan Couture's attempted clear just as it ended went into the stands for delay of game.
Fortunately, Thornton--who had failed on a great short-handed backhand attempt about a minute earlier--was able to find the empty net; Heatley got another to pad the stats in the closing seconds.
After the game there was much talk about dirty play. Hearing Ott talk about other people's cheap shots is rich, but there is substance to what he said—players do have only one brain and it must be protected.
Two hits caused injuries that kept players from returning. However, both happened within play and one was correctly not even called a penalty.
Murray's check that was high occurred because he is taller than the guy who was also skating right at him to lay a hit. Langenbrunner's hit on Wallin should have been a boarding but probably not a major and there is not likely to be anything more than a small fine.
Heatley should be suspended even though Ott returned for the next shift and is unlikely to miss time. What he did was not within the scope of the game--behind the play and deliberate. It does not matter that Ott is an instigator or that Heatley does not have a history of this (though that should make the suspension short)--dirty play is dirty play.
Overall, the game featured 34 hits from the Stars and 27 from the Sharks. The Sharks dominated the faceoff circle 41-27 and blocked 21 shots to the Stars' 13. Both teams had eight takeaways, but the Sharks had just eight giveaways to the Stars' 15.
This may be what prompted coach Todd McLellan to say the team responded as he had hoped when they were challenged for "trying to win the easy way" in Chicago. But the reality is that even though the Stars played worse, the Sharks were still sloppy.
They registered 39 shots but allowed 37, and the Stars attempted 78 to the Sharks' 67 (20 missed the net to San Jose's 15.) Both teams had five penalties, and the Sharks special teams were anything but, only scoring on five-on-three or empty nets while yielding one on the a five-on-four and another on a four-on-five.
San Jose has a chance to get their defence back on track with a home game vs. the Minnesota Wild on St. Patrick's Day...look for big games from the team's top Patrick (Marleau) and Irishmen Dan Boyle and coach McLellan.