No NHL team needs the bye week more than the San Jose Sharks.
No team needs the mental break more. No team needs to forget about hockey, or skating, or arenas, or ice, or third periods, overtimes, and shootouts more than the Sharks.
The Sharks have one more game to go before their bye-week begins, though, and they certainly hope to have a quality effort Saturday in Pittsburgh against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.
But the Sharks know that won’t guarantee them anything, just like it didn’t Friday night in a dispiriting 5-4 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena.
“We’re in every game,” Sharks forward Nick Bonino said, “and we find ways to lose.”
For two periods, the Sharks played the kind of game they wanted to against the Hurricanes, leaders of the Metropolitan Division. They won battles, won races to pucks, and (mostly) avoided turnovers. Early in the third period, they also overcame some adversity, scoring three unanswered goals after Sebastian Aho put Carolina up 2-1 just 17 seconds into the final frame.
But practically no lead is safe when it comes to San Jose Sharks hockey this season.
Just 15 seconds after Mario Ferraro scored an empty-net goal for a 4-2 San Jose lead, the Sharks suffered a massive brain cramp, plain and simple.
After a faceoff at center ice following the Ferraro goal, the puck was sent deep into the Hurricanes’ zone, and both Nico Sturm and Oskar Lindblom went charging into the Carolina end to pressure the puck carrier.
A reminder: The Sharks (14-25-11) didn’t need a fifth goal at that point.
Nick Bonino and Jaycob Megna hung back near the Hurricanes’ blue line – although Megna was out of position along the boards – with Erik Karlsson playing center field behind them. None of it mattered. Carolina defenseman Jalen Chatfield easily eluded Sturm’s forecheck, getting the puck to Seth Jarvis, who quickly fed Teuvo Teravainen inside the Sharks’ zone.
By that point, four Sharks skaters have been completely left in the dust, with only Karlsson back to defend a Teravainen-Aho 2-on-1. As could be predicted, Teravainen slid the puck over to Aho, who went in alone on James Reimer and beat him five-hole with 1:37 left in regulation time.
“Not protecting the middle of the rink,” Sharks coach David Quinn said. “We should have gone and just established our forecheck – they still had their goalie in – and just go play the way we had done and we didn’t.
“We backed off instead of going and playing hockey. We’re outside the dots, both (defensemen) have to be inside the dots, and they weren’t. To give up a breakaway like that is really frustrating.”
The body language after that goal said it all.
There was little celebration from Aho, who instead showed a look of resolve as he glanced at the clock to see how much time was left.
The Sharks, well, they knew from several previous scarring losses that the game was far from over.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of practice at losing games in this fashion,” Quinn said, “so it’s just very disappointing for our players.”
From there, the Hurricanes won three straight faceoffs, including a disputed one won by Jordan Staal with 19 seconds to go.
The Sharks believed Staal drew the puck back before it hit the ice. No matter. The puck found its way back to Brent Burns, whose shot from inside the blue line wound up in the corner to the right of Reimer.
Andrei Svechnikov then flung the puck toward the net. Reimer got a piece of it, but it went to straight to an open Martin Necas, who beat Reimer with a wrist shot high above the right shoulder tying the game 4-4.
If the demons the Sharks have faced all season long in close games hadn’t returned after the Aho goal, they certainly were front and center when Necas found the net.
The Sharks, including overtimes and shootouts, have now lost 11 games this season in which held a lead in the third period, the highest total in the NHL.
The Sharks are also a dismal 5-6-11 in one-goal games.
At some point, taking one gut punch after another has to have a negative effect on one’s psyche.
“We got a couple of goals and you could feel it was coming for us,” Necas said.
The Sharks got one shot on goal in overtime, by Logan Couture, but the end result seemed like a fait d’accompli. On a Hurricanes 2-on-1, Svechnikov fed Necas, who buried a shot past Reimer.
It was only the second time in team history the Sharks have blown a two-goal lead within the final two minutes of regulation time, with the last coming on Jan. 5 against the Washington Capitals (a 5-4 overtime loss).
The Sharks have not won a one-goal game since they beat the Arizona Coyotes 3-2 – on Dec. 13. Since then they are 0-1-6 in such games.
That’s why the Sharks need the break more than anyone. After Saturday, they don’t play (or practice) again until Feb, 7 when they start a three-game road trip against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
That should be enough time to heal the wounds the Sharks have – both physical and mental – for whatever might come their way in the final two months of the season. If it’s any consolation, losses don’t come any more devastating than this.
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