(photo: Trevor Will/@SFBay)
Saturday night on ice presented two very evenly matched teams. Both the San Jose Sharks and the New York Islanders were 6-4 in regulation coming into the game, with the Sharks two games in hand and with two overtime losses – one of which came back on Oct 16 when the clubs met back on the island. Now they were back here in San Jose for their last matchup of the regular season to get revenge.
The game began with some lineup changes for the Sharks – one planned and one on the fly. Matt Nieto entered the first line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, thus bumping Tomas Hertl to the fourth line. Plus, rookie Barclay Goodrow, in only his second game, is trying to show his stride as well, leaving Hertl, literally waiting in the wings to continue to prove he’s a talented sophomore sniper amid newcomers.
Along with Hertl’s personal struggle to prove himself came a team struggle when a clean hit into the boards on Scott Hannan from Cal Clutterbuck early in the first period sent Hannan to the locker room. He never returned to the ice, thus forcing the Sharks to adapt to playing only 5 defensemen.
Coach Todd McLellan thought the boys did just fine with a man down and said after the game:
“Yeah, I was (happy). We didn’t give up a lot. When we were in our end we weren’t running around. I thought the five defensemen managed their ice-time well, simplified their game a little bit more…They handled themselves very well.”
The Sharks were down 1-0 less than ten minutes into the first period. It was the first time this season that they gave up the first goal. Hertl tied the game just over the halfway mark of the first period on a power play. So now he’s off the schneid. Being on the fourth line either set a fire under him to try harder (and I’m not saying he hasn’t tried hard the past several games – he’s had numerous pucks on posts!) or the power play line with Nieto and Tommy Wingels was the winning combination.
“Oh yeah, I’m very happy I scored,” Hertl reflected in a post-game interview. “Tommy Wingels had a very nice pass to me, so it was a really easy goal. Hopefully, I start more (scoring) and just keep going.”
At the end of the first period, the shot clock was in favor of the Sharks with 17 shots; the Islanders had only 6. In the second period, San Jose was held to only one shot halfway through, but they powered through to gain four more shots for a total of 5 in the period, while the Isles were held to only 6 again. This showcased that the pace in the second period was sluggish at best with a lot of back and forth hockey.
Islanders’ Kyle Okposo commented: “I thought it was pretty back-and-forth, we had some good chances, we had some pretty good shifts and so did they. It was a back-and-forth hockey game.”
Finally some life returned in the third by a shot on goal by Pavelski about midway into the period. Jaroslav Halak made a great save, his 24th of the game, on the first real chance for the Sharks that period. The tally of shots on goal by period was still in favor of the Isles, but no scoring would come of it for them. The Sharks weren’t done though.
Logan Couture tipped a redirect from Justin Braun that was barely visible to the naked eye to make it 2-1 with 12 minutes remaining in the game. An insurance goal by James Sheppard (who has been in and out of the lineup since the start of the season for conditioning in the AHL) made it 3-1 with about 4 minutes left in regulation.
The Sharks really needed to win this game in order to show resoluteness in time of lineup changes and to get back the game they dropped on the island last month. Furthermore, this win was their first at home since the home opener. The fans appreciated this win. Lastly, Hertl and Sheppard both needed to score coming into this game to show their worth, and they did.