(photo San Jose Sharks)
Both the San Jose Sharks and the New York Islanders are on the skids, the Sharks having lost 3 straight games in regulation and the Islanders, the last 10. Tonight the Islanders, having just lost on Monday night to the Anaheim Ducks 5-2, put a skate back on the tracks and made a comeback in the 3rd to force overtime and a shootout, winning 3-2, with Kyle Okposo potting the tying goal and the shootout winner for the Islanders. The Sharks will have to contemplate a fourth straight loss and yet another game where they have visibly failed to finish playing a full 60 minutes of hockey.
On the last road game in Minneapolis, the Sharks brought back Matt Nieto and Freddie Hamilton from the Worccester Sharks, hoping to inject some speed back into the Sharks lineup. A late goal by Patrick Marleau with a minute left in the 3rd period was all the team could muster after throwing 38 pucks at Wild goaltender Josh Harding, losing 3-1. The road games showed the Sharks with a lackluster power play and struggles on the faceoff dot. Both the power play and the faceoff wins improved tonight, although the one draw where the game was on the line was lost cleanly by Joe Pavelski, Isle’s Captain John Tarvares passing it back to Kyle Okposo for the late 3rd period goal that tied it up and drove the game into extra time.
The matchup between the Sharks and the Islanders meant that fans were looking forward to seeing the return of Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov in net at the Shark tank. Nabokov tended San Jose’s goal crease for 10 years and they were fond memories for the netminder. Although he practiced with the team during Tuesday’s morning skate, the groin injury that has sidelined him for the past 10 games kept him off the ice for the evening contest.
The Tuesday night tilt featured the battle of centermen as San Jose Sharks Logan Couture went toe-to-toe with New York Islanders John Tavares. Both players bring a fierce compete level to the ice on any night they play but sharing the same ice heightened the drama between the two. Their rivalry goes back to their days playing juniors, Couture with the Ottawa 67s and Tavares the Oshawa Generals. Neither would score a goal in regulation, but both players picked up assists and throughout the night it would be either Tavares blocking a Couture shot on net or vice versa.
The Islanders top line of Tavares, Okposo and Vanek created the most havoc in front of San Jose’s Antti Niemi and gave the Islanders a chance to win. After the shootout loss Sharks Coach Todd McLellan said “What is disappointing for me is through the last 4 games the top line on the other team has handled us and done all the damage. Our shutdown group, the guys we rely on in that situation are getting beat right now along with the goaltender, that has to improve.”
It was all New York Islanders netminder Kevin Poulin for the first frame as he kept the Sharks off the scoresheet despite 18 shots being sent his way. The San Jose Sharks began with 3 power play opportunities in the first period. Islander’s Travis Hamonic created two of them and the Sharks generated some good scoring chances during the man advantage. It took a bad bounce of the puck off Sharks’ Brad Stuart at the blueline to give the Islanders their first real good scoring opportunity 15:00 into the period. Neither team would come away with a goal in the first period, but the Sharks dominated the offensive zone and the Islanders defencemen looked as though they lacked the confidence to clear San Jose from their end.
Patrick Marleau opened up the scoring for the Sharks 5:26 into the second period off a feed from Dan Boyle and Logan Couture. It was a power play goal for San Jose after Islander’s Matt Carkner roughed up Tomas Hertl. The Sharks had struggled on the power play as of late, going 1 for 18. Following the game Coach McLellan highlighted the improvement he saw. “It was significantly better from where it was on the road. We looked like we played with authority, had a good breakout, established possession and it scored us a goal so that was good.”
The Sharks second goal came at 15:24 of the second period as Joe Pavelski made a cross slot pass to Dan Boyle who fired it on Islander’s Poulin. Pavelski picked up the rebound and jammed it home. Patrick Marleau started the drive toward the net and for his effort picked up an assist on the goal.
A little less than a minute into the third period the Islanders got a point on the board. John Tavares muscled his way into the Sharks zone, battling one on one with Justin Braun, and took it to the net. As Niemi slid to take away Tavares’ drive, Thomas Vanek snuck in and put the puck over the line. The glimmer of hope appeared for New York and it was enough to give them the confidence they needed to meet San Jose in their end. Sharks Captain Joe Thornton said of the goal, “I think the Vanek goal gave them a little shot in the arm, made them believe in themselves a little bit. I thought we played well for the first and second periods and then we let it slip away from us.”
With a 1:37 to go in the third period, the Islanders pulled Poulin for the extra attacker and got a face-off deep in the Sharks end. Pavelski and Tavares squared up and New York would win the draw, Tavares sending it back to Okposo who then sent it straight to the back of the Sharks net for the tying goal to force an overtime frame. Joe Pavelski who had won most of the face-off battles on the evening, expressed frustration at the loss of the face-off and the subsequent goal. “I lost it, it’s frustrating as the centerman you have a good night and you lose the one and it ends up being the one you want , at the end of the day it’s the one you got to win.” Coach McLellan remarked, “Tavares won it cleanly. You lose a draw like that, they get a freebie and they made it count.”
The game would ultimately go to a shootout, Islanders Kyle Okposo netting the winning goal. The Sharks, who set the pace for the first two periods of play, for their part lacked any sense of urgency in the 3rd period and let the game slip through their sticks. Pavelski commented that they had to be good all the way to the end and they weren’t. Joe Thornton said, “The last two games we’ve been getting good scoring chances, we just aren’t putting it in the back of the net. We’ve done a pretty good job all year putting away teams especially at home, but tonight, you know hopefully it’s just a hiccup and we’ll get back to it.”
The Sharks won’t have to wait long to get back to it as they face the Minnesota Wild for the second time this week, this time on home ice Thursday. The puck drops at the SAP center at 7:30.