(photo credit: Dinur Blum)
“I think the chances are there. I think it’s, hopefully, like the big build up of a dam and it’s going to break soon and we’ll start getting on a winning streak.”-Patrick Marleau after the loss to the Calgary Flames
If you watch the San Jose Sharks consistently, they are a perplexing team. Coming off a 4 game losing skid and a lackluster performance that resulted in a goose egg against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night, the Sharks pulled a rabbit out of their hat and got a 6-4 win over a tired Anaheim Ducks. The Sharks showed up for the first period of play; it was the first time in a while they have looked so full of life in the first. They applied pressure on the young Anaheim defensemen early, who spent a lot of time on the ice in their loss to the Chicago Blackhawks the night before. The Sharks used the neutral zone effectively, gaining speed and space to generate solid offensive chances in the Ducks’ end. By the time the period was over, San Jose had scored one even strength, one shorty and one power play tally, for a team that had struggled to get a goal in the first period, let alone even 3 goals in a game, it was a breakthrough. The goal buildup, the dam analogy that Patrick Marleau had used after the disappointing loss to Calgary seemed to be coming to fruition.
Grade A Effort from Couture, Pavelski and Wingels
Sharks forward Logan Couture stepped up for the team despite spending the better half of a game day sick and in the hospital. Coach Todd McLellan said,”I don’t think he felt that bad. I just think the doctors were concerned. But he had a hell of a game, probably the best game of his season, in my opinion.” Couture started the offensive drive in the first period, scoring his 9th goal of the season off a play that began with a fast zone entry and a precision cycle in the Ducks end. Patrick Marleau entered the zone with the puck, made a tight turn along the boards and then passed cross ice to Tommy Wingels. Wingels passed it back to Marleau who fired from the point, Wingels caught a piece of it and Couture served up the rebound to Ducks netminder Frederik Andersen, giving San Jose the 1-0 lead at 9:05 of the first period.
After the Ducks evened the score with an innocent looking play from defenseman Hampus Lindholm on a low to high cycle to allow Matt Belesky to go five hole on Niemi, the Sharks would need to kill off a penalty as Mike Brown went to the box on a delay of game call. As the Ducks tried to set up shop in San Jose’s zone, a pass went awry near the blueline and Couture turned on the jets and headed up ice. He sent the puck through the legs of Andersen, netting a shorthanded goal, and putting the Sharks ahead 2-1. “We needed a spark like that,” said Joe Pavelski about Logan’s breakaway shorthanded goal. “He made a great shot on his breakaway and we were rolling from there.”
Pavelski pushed the Sharks ahead 3-1 with a powerplay goal of his own. Again, the play began in the neutral zone as Pavelski grabbed the puck and skated, chipping it into the corner for Tommy Wingels, who then found Joe Thornton behind the net. Thornton then sent the puck through the slot in traffic and Pavelski found it, scoring his tenth goal of the season, and the sixth on a power play.
The flood of San Jose goals continued as Wingels tipped it in after the Sharks won the faceoff and Marleau made a perfect saucer pass to Wingels, who collected his third point of the game. Tomas Hertl then walked in, showcasing his footwork and soft hands, going backhand and top shelf on Andersen. It was a play that began with James Sheppard stealing the puck in the neutral zone and then following through with boxing out the defense and allowing Hertl the space to score. That would be the end for Ducks Andersen, with LaBarbera coming in relief as the Sharks sat with a 5-1 lead.
The Dynamism of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf
Say what you will about Corey Perry, there is no doubt that sharing ice with Ryan Getzlaf is nothing but fireworks for the two of them. Through the first period of play Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau had split up the duo, trying to spread out his teams ice time, particularly since the team had played a day game the day before and many of their top players are out with either injury or illness. By the second period, the two were back together and the Ducks comeback began. After several penalties were handed out to both sides of the ice, Anaheim got a jump in their stride and Getzlaf and Perry led the rush.
“We have to get a spark somehow,” said Perry. “It’s our duty to be ready to play. As leaders on this team, we had to step up. We fell behind the 8-ball, but if we keep playing the way we did the second half of that game there’s going to be a lot of good things to come.”
The duo combined to score three textbook goals in the second and third period, capitalizing on miscommunication and turnovers by the Sharks and giving the Ducks an opportunity to take the game away from San Jose. Halfway through the third period Anaheim was within 1 of tying the game, with a score of 5-4, the Sharks dominant start all but evaporating.
Neet Empty Net for Nieto
If anyone needed a goal more, it was Sharks young forward Matt Nieto, whose tenacity and speed with the puck hadn’t been rewarded since the first game of the season. Granted it was an empty-netter, but it took the game away from the Ducks, allowing San Jose a 6-4 victory and got the monkey off Nieto’s back so to speak. Wingels assisted on the play, giving him a four point night, a career high.
Jekyl and Hyde Sharks
The Sharks have a way, though, of letting games get away from them after a strong start, and the Ducks woke up halfway through the second period and never looked back. Sharks netminder Antti Niemi was forced to make some key saves to keep his team from losing the lead as the team fought off wave after wave of Anaheim offensive rushes through the neutral zone. Defensive end turnovers didn’t help San Jose’s cause and the game quickly went from a 5-1 comfortable lead for the team in teal to a “too close for comfort” 5-4 game less than halfway through the third period of play.
“Tonight kind of epitomizes our team,” said Head Coach Todd McLellan. “We come out and do exactly what we want to do. We play with a straightforward mentality, no turnovers, hard forecheck, physical on pucks, special teams are sharp, we get a lead and then we want to play a different game.”
Indeed, San Jose’s first 30 minutes of play contrasted sharply from their last thirty and their lack of consistent effort nearly cost them a much needed 2 points. The Sharks sit just outside of a wild card spot in the standings right now, a concept that is a bit foreign in recent Sharks memory. A full 60 minutes of drive, doing exactly as McLellan says they should, will be the breaker for the Sharks to snag a playoff spot.