The San Jose Sharks allowed a go-ahead goal to Pierre Engvall with 2:27 left in the third period in a 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday at Scotiabank Arena.
Tomas Hertl had the puck in the neutral zone but had a backhand pass intercepted by the Maple Leafs. Alex Kerfoot later put a shot on goal that was saved by Aaron Dell, but the rebound came straight to Engvall, who scored his third of the season to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead.
Mitch Marner then scored an empty-net goal with 1:11 left in the third period, extending his points streak to 18 games.
Dell, in his first NHL start in 10 months, had 29 saves, including six on the penalty kill, as the Sharks mostly went step-for-step with the Maple Leafs (15-5-5), who entered Wednesday in second place in the Atlantic Division.
Matt Nieto scored the only goal for the Sharks (8-14-4), who lost for the fourth time in five games. The Sharks’ only win in that time came Tuesday in Montreal against the Canadiens, as they scored three times in the third period for a 4-0 victory.
The Maple Leafs opened the scoring at the 4:19 mark of the second period, as Auston Matthews established position in front of the Sharks’ net and redirected a pass from Mac Hollowell past Dell.
The Sharks got that goal back at the 7:26 mark of the second. After Logan Couture took a pass from Nick Cicek and skated behind the Maple Leafs and passed in front to Nieto, who snapped a shot past Ilya Samsonov for his sixth goal of the season, matching his total from 70 games last season.
The Sharks killed all three penalties they took Wednesday against the Leafs, improving upon what was already the best penalty kill in the NHL.
Going into Wednesday’s game, the Sharks had killed 91.2 percent (62 of 68) of the penalties they had taken this season. Starting with their 5-4 win over the Dallas Stars, the Sharks, before the game in Toronto, has killed 25 of 27 penalties (92.6 percent), which has helped them to a 5-4-1 record in that time.
Dell was making his first NHL start since Jan. 25, 2022, when he faced 47 shots as a member of the Buffalo Sabres in a 5-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators.
Dell’s last start for the Sharks before Wednesday came when the Sharks played in Chicago against the Blackhawks on March 11, 2020, a day before the NHL and other sports shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dell made 10 saves in the first period which was played at a breakneck pace, which seemingly favored a Toronto team that entered the game with a 10-1-3 record this November. Marner had played a huge role in Toronto’s success, with six goals and 17 assists in a 17-game point streak.
The Sharks finished the month with a 5-6-4 record as they came into Wednesday in seventh place in the Pacific Division.
INJURY UPDATES: Defenseman Mario Ferraro remains out indefinitely but the Sharks could get two other veteran players back soon, possibly by the end of their road trip this weekend.
Sharks coach David Quinn said Wednesday that forward Nico Sturm is getting “very close” to a return from an upper-body injury and that goalie James Reimer could be available to play either Saturday or Sunday.
Reimer was placed on injured reserve Monday but he, Sturm, and Ferraro are all on the Sharks’ trip, which concludes with games against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday and the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday.
Ferraro’s timeline for a return is less clear. He was placed on IR on Saturday with a lower-body injury, one day after he blocked four shots in a game against the Los Angeles Kings, and would be eligible to be activated prior to the Sharks’ game with the Senators. Quinn has described the defenseman as being week-to-week.
“I honestly can’t give you an exact time, because it’s (about) pain tolerance and he’s a tough kid, so we’ll see,” Quinn said. “It’d be irresponsible for me to tell you when he could come back. I honestly have no idea.”
Sturm, 27, has missed the Sharks’ last five games, recovering from a head injury he suffered in a Nov. 19 game against the New York Rangers.
AWARD: Warren Strelow, whose goaltending coaching career included Olympic gold at the 1980 Lake Placid games and an influential 10-year run with the Sharks, was posthumously recognized Wednesday as the recipient of the 2022 Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.
Strelow is the second individual with direct Sharks ties to receive the trophy after original owner George Gund III received the award in 1996.
Strelow taught at several levels of hockey throughout his 30-plus years in coaching, highlighted by his times with Team USA when the Americans won Olympic gold in 1980 and silver in 2002 in Salt Lake City. He was with the Sharks from 1997 until his death in 2007 and helped develop goalies such as Evgeni Nabokov and Miikka Kiprusoff. Nabokov is now the Sharks’ director of goaltending.