Sharks shut out by first-place Rangers, and the schedule doesn’t let up much from here

 Sharks shut out by first-place Rangers, and the schedule doesn’t let up much from here
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) attempts to cover the puck in front of San Jose Sharks’ Jeffrey Viel (63) in the first period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

The Sharks were able to climb back into the playoff picture over the last week thanks to three straight wins over teams that will likely miss this year’s postseason.

Now that the Sharks are starting to come up against some much tougher teams, it might be a challenge for them to stay in the mix for a postseason spot.

The Sharks had 37 shots on goal Thursday but were stymied 3-0 by goalie Igor Shesterkin and the Metropolitan Division-leadine New York Rangers at SAP Center. The loss marked the ninth time in the last 12 games the Sharks have scored two goals or less in regulation time, and the fourth time they’ve been shut out this season.

“One of those nights where we generated enough,” chances, Sharks coach Bob Boughner said, “but we couldn’t find could find the answer on Shesterkin.”

It doesn’t get much easier from here.

The Sharks finish their homestand with games against two playoff-caliber teams, facing Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday and the rival Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

After that, five of the Sharks’ final six games before the NHL all-star break are against playoff-bound teams, including two against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Sharks (20-17-1, 41 points) enter Friday in fourth place in the Pacific Division and as the second wild card team in the Western Conference. But all of their closest pursuers all have at least four games in hand.

Against the Rangers, the Sharks had 20 shots in the first two periods and added 17 more in the third, but they were all turned aside by Shesterkin.

Adin Hill was solid for the Sharks with 28 saves, but the Sharks had no answer after Chris Kreider scored a shorthanded goal in the first period and rookie Braden Schneider scored at even strength in the third.

Kreider added an empty-net goal with 28 seconds left in regulation time as the Sharks had their three-game win streak.

“You score zero goals,” Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson said, “you win zero games.”

Shesterkin also helped shut out the Sharks 1-0 on Dec. 3 at Madison Square Garden.

“Shesterkin is really, really good,” Sharks forward Nick Bonino said. “Shut us out twice this year. We had some Grade-A looks but he’s never caught out of position.”

The Sharks got an emotional lift midway through the second period when winger Jeffrey Viel dropped the gloves with Jacob Trouba shortly after the Rangers defenseman harassed San Jose’s newly minted all-star, Timo Meier.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: San Jose Sharks’ Jeffrey Viel (63) fights with New York Rangers’ Jacob Trouba (8) in the second period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

The boost didn’t last.

The Sharks, already down by one, gave up a goal to rookie defenseman Schneider early in the third period and never recovered.

Karlsson’s attempted breakout pass near the Sharks’ blue line was intercepted by Artemi Panarin. The puck found its way to Ryan Strome, who found Schneider open in front and he beat Hill at the 1:27 mark of the third period for his first goal in his first career NHL game.

Trouba and Meier had a battle with each other in the Rangers’ zone midway through the second period, injecting some energy in an otherwise average non-conference game.

Trouba was given an interference penalty and Meier was called for cross-checking at the 9:15 mark of the second period as he retaliated to Trouba’s harassment. Viel noticed Trouba’s roughhousing and took on the Rangers’ defenseman on his next shift.

Meier and the Sharks may have been looking for a spark after the Rangers took a 1-0 lead in the first period.

With Strome serving a cross-checking penalty, the Sharks went on to allow their sixth shorthanded goal of the season at the 10:25 mark, as Kreider took a pass from Mika Zibanejad and beat Hill and scored his 22nd of the season.

The Sharks were without winger Alexander Barabanov, who entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol on Wednesday. But they also welcomed back Bonino from the protocol and winger Rudolfs Balcers from a lower-body injury.

Bonino flew from Philadelphia into the Bay Area early Thursday morning and completed his five-day isolation, and he and Boughner determined he was ready to play again.

Balcers had been out of the lineup since Dec. 3 when he was injured in a game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Boughner said assistant coach John MacLean, who entered protocol a day after Bonino and remained in Philadelphia, will be flying back to California on Friday.

Dan Darrow, the Sharks’ video coach, is isolating in San Jose but remains involved in various aspects of game-planning, Boughner said, adding that Barracuda video coach Nick Gialdini has taken over Darrow’s onsite duties.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner talks to his team during a time out during their game against the New York Rangers in the third period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: San Jose Sharks’ Timo Meier (28) fights for the puck against New York Rangers’ Adam Fox (23) in the first period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: San Jose Sharks’ Nick Bonino (13) takes a shot against New York Rangers’ Artemi Panarin (10) in the third period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: San Jose Sharks’ Timo Meier (28) passes the puck against New York Rangers’ Adam Fox (23) in the second period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: San Jose Sharks’ Logan Couture (39) sits on the bench late in the third period during their 3-0 loss to the New York Rangers at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

 

Curtis Pashelka

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