February 15, 2017 By Paul Gackle

Sharks Defensive Woes Continue in Overtime Loss to Panthers

SAN JOSE — The goals are finally coming, but now the Sharks are struggling to keep the puck out of their own net.

After going nearly three months without recording more than four goals in a game, the Sharks (34-18-6) have hit that mark five times in their last 19 outings, averaging an impressive 3.26 goals per game in those contests. But as the offense surges, the Sharks defensive foundation is starting to slip as they’ve surrendered five or more goals in three of their last five games, including Wednesday’s 6-5 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers (25-20-10) at the SAP Center.

“We’ve been a little loose defensively the last few games,” goalie Martin Jones said after he shouldered the responsibility for the Sharks recent spike in goals against.

“Just some chances from the middle of the ice that we’re normally pretty good at, so we definitely want to tighten up a little bit.”

The team committed enough turnovers and defensive miscues in the game’s opening 10 minutes, it could put together an instructional video for the Jr. Sharks on how not to play. The Panthers stormed out to a 3-1 lead in the first 7:12 of the first by scoring goals on three of their first four shots.

Jussi Jokinen got the Panthers on the board at 4:20 of the first after Brent Burns got caught pinching in the neutral zone before picking up the wrong man as he skated back to defend the ensuing two-on-one play.

Nick Bjugstad scored the first of his two goals on a breakaway just 1:35 later, splitting David Schlemko and Brenden Dillon after Aaron Ekblad hit him with a stretch pass at the Sharks blue line from the defensive zone.

Aleksander Barkov found the net on the Panthers next shot at 7:12 after Marc-Edouard Vlasic coughed up the puck on a rare turnover in the defensive zone.

“You look back at all their goals tonight, it’s on our stick, we gave it to them, and their young skill, they thrive off of turnovers,” alternate captain Logan Couture said. “That’s where they get creative and create chances like they did. Tic-tac-toe, it’s in the back of our net.”

Sandwiched in between the Panthers first and second goals was a tally from Brent Burns, his team-leading 25th of the season, at 4:51 of the first. Joel Ward made it a 3-2 game with 4:35 left in the period, redirecting a Burns shot-pass from the side of the net that Thornton also redirected in the slot for the 997th assist of his career.

After the first period debacle concluded, the Sharks owned the middle stanza, outshooting the Panthers 14-3 and holding them without a shot for the first 13:35 of the frame. They tied the game up at 6:27 after Marc-Edouard Vlasic blasted in a point shot off Barkov.

But the Panthers stormed back in the third, capitalizing on two more Sharks miscues.

First, Bjugstad notched his second tally at 2:15 after Timo Meier made a weak attempt at clearing the puck off the boards before compounding the mistake by jumping up and getting beat by Alex Petrovic into the right circle. Petrovic then fed Bjugstad a one timer in the slot that he fired past Jones.

After that, Chris Tierney turned the puck over, allowing Jaromir Jagr to collect his 1,900th career point on his 45th birthday by finding Barkov in front for his second goal at 12:41.

“We didn’t give up a lot of shots, but we gave up a lot of grade-A opportunities, which is a little uncharacteristic,” head coach Peter DeBoer said. “That’s a team that will stick it in the back of the net if you give them grade-A looks.”

But Pavelski allowed the Sharks to earn a single point by forcing overtime with a pair of goals in the game’s final 3:21. He knocked the puck in off Michael Matheson’s stick for his 19th of the year at 16:39, and then with 37.4 seconds left on the clock, he buried the rebound of a Tomas Hertl deflection that hit the right post for his 20th.

Unfortunately for the home team, Jonathan Huberdeau clinched the game for the Panthers just 98 seconds into overtime.

Despite the Sharks recent defensive woes, the team has found a way to earn points in all but one of their eight games since the all-star break, which is why the team isn’t hitting the panic button just yet.

“Our defensive game’s been good all year,” Jones said. “We know how to play defensively, play within our structure. We’ve just got to make sure we’re focusing on the details in our next couple of games here.”