Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sharks start fast but forget how to finish in overtime loss to Florida

On second thought, maybe those frustratingly slow starts and amazingly fast finishes the Sharks had been producing weren’t so bad after all.

After setting an NHL record by winning three straight games in regulation after trailing entering the third period, the Sharks flipped the script Saturday afternoon against the Florida Panthers at HP Pavilion.

This time the Sharks jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period and lost 3-2 in overtime. Sharks coach Todd McLellan loved his team’s fast start but hated the continued inconsistency heading into a six-game road trip.

“We accomplished a couple things tonight,” McLellan said. “We came out and had a little fire in our belly. Played extremely hard in the first period but let it get away from us. That’s the inconsistency in our game right now. Obviously they heard the message for the start, now we reversed the trend. We didn’t finish real well.”

In their 8-5 win Thursday night over Nashville, the Sharks scored six goals in the third period. Before that, they came from behind to beat Columbus 2-1 and Montreal 3-2.

McLellan said one of his main goals for the upcoming road trip is for the Sharks to play consistently well from start to finish.

“There’s a lot of good things in our game right now, but the one thing we haven’t put forth maybe since the Olympic break is a solid 60-minute effort,” he said. “We’ve been 40, we’ve been 30, we’ve been even to the point where we’re probably 55, but a solid 60 …”

The Sharks appeared to grab the game by the throat in the first 20 minutes Saturday, taking a 2-0 lead.

In the first five minutes, the Sharks outshot the Panthers 4-0. Then with 14:28 still left in the first period, Ryane Clowe beat Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun, putting the Sharks up 1-0.

Patrick Marleau set the scoring play in motion when he won a faceoff in the right circle. Clowe chased down the puck along the boards, skated low then reversed course and glided to the point where he whipped a shot past Vokoun.

The Sharks made it 2-0 with 2:15 left in the first period when Marleau hammered home a one-timer on the power play.

Marleau, stationed low on the right circle, took a pass from Joe Pavelski and ripped a sharp-angled shot at, oh, 100 mph or so, past Vokoun, who didn’t have a chance. The goal was Marleau’s 41st of the season, yet another new single-season high.

Marleau’s one of three Sharks with at least 40 goals in a season, joining Jonathan Cheechoo and Owen Nolan. He’s third on the all-time list, three behind Nolan, who had 44 goals in 1999-2000, and 15 behind Cheechoo, who scored 56 in 2005-2006.

Just when you thought the Sharks might be headed for a rout, they went dead on offense.

“Coming out strong was good,” Marleau said. “You want to continue that. You don’t’ want to sit back because teams can sense that and they come right back at you.

“I think we had quite a few opportunities to score some goals. We didn’t finish. We tried to make probably too cute of plays instead of sticking with what works and what’s simple – getting pucks to the net and banging the rebounds. We did have chances.”

Florida sliced their lead to 2-1 with just 1:02 gone in the second period. The Panthers’ Keith Ballard took a cross-ice pass in the right circle and beat Thomas Greiss on the glove side. Greiss, making a rare start in place of Evgeni Nabokov, had been planted on the opposite side of the crease and couldn’t reposition himself quickly enough, leaving a huge opening for Ballard.

Greiss made his first start for the Sharks since Feb. 10, a 3-0 loss to Columbus. It’s not as if he hadn’t been on the ice since then -- Greiss started for Germany in the Vancouver Olympics, going 0-3-0 – but he struggled Saturday.

“It was pretty tough for me to get into the game,” Greiss said. “I never really felt good until the end of the game. A tough game for me.”

Florida tied the game 2-2 when Shawn Matthias banged a rebound past Greiss at 5:01 of the third period. Then with 2:14 left in overtime, after the Panthers won a faceoff in the Sharks’ end, defenseman Bryan Allen ripped a shot from the left slot past a screened Greiss for the game-winner.

The Sharks have to be wondering what might have been if they hadn’t lost center Manny Malhotra for 17 minutes of the third period. After Florida’s Jason Garrison hit Pavelski from behind, ramming him into the boards, Malhotra retaliated with his fists. Malhotra got hit with two minutes for instigating, five for fighting and 10 for misconduct. Morrison got two for boarding and five for fighting.

“It hurts,” McLellan said of losing Malhotra for so long. “Manny’s a valuable player. He plays in all situations. We talked about this before a lot. What happens when somebody takes a liberty? In this case, Manny stuck up for his teammate. We don’t mind that one bit. We’re happy that he does that, but in turn it also keeps him out of the game for 17 minutes, and 17 important minutes.”

Now, if this had been a playoff game, McLellan would have wanted Malhotra to show more restraint.

“In a playoff game, probably the best response we could have is win the game 3-2 or 4-2 and move on,” he said. “In this situation, we’re happy he responded the way he did.”

In truth, Florida is a team the Sharks should have dominated from start to finish. San Jose came into the game with 95 points, best in the Western Conference. The Panthers had 64 and were eight points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, all but dead. They suffered a 3-0 loss Thursday night to Colorado in Denver, the second stop in a three-game West Coast road swing.

Entering the game, Florida had one player with more than 17 goals – center Stephen Weiss with 23 – and he took a puck off a foot Thursday night and wasn’t at full strength. The Sharks had three: Marleau, Dany Heatley (36) and Pavelski (20).

So much for statistics.

“I am disappointed,” McLellan said. “We should be a better team. We shouldn’t be giving up two-goal leads. Let’s make that clear. I’m not happy, but I also want to give the other team some credit. They came in. They used five defensive men basically the whole game.

“Their goaltender played extremely well, kept them in the game. When we watch the video and sit down and look at the mistakes we made, there weren’t a dramatic amount. We certainly were far better than we were against Nashville. It wasn’t even close.”

Well, maybe better everywhere but on the scoreboard.

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