(photo: Josie Lepe / Bay Area News Group)
Winning back-to-back games is always a confidence booster for a team. Winning back-to-back games after three losses in a row is a much-needed confidence booster. The San Jose Sharks hosted the Philadelphia Flyers and got that confidence back. For a team that was struggling early on with a 10-10-4 record going into this game, and an abysmal 2-4-2 record at home, this win couldn’t have happened at a more opportune time for the Sharks.
The first period showcased the same type of play typically seen this season – a lot of dump-ins, turnovers, and chasing the puck. There was one stat, however, that was uncharacteristic for the Sharks – the Flyers out-shot the Sharks 16-6 in the first period. They are usually ahead in shots on goal, with the trouble being getting those shots past the crease. So, to be behind in both shots and a goal so early on was a scary thing. One of those Flyers’ shots produced a power-play goal by Sean Couturier. At this point in the game, it didn’t look good for Team Teal. The only notable spark was a fight between newly acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon and Couturier, and each received five minutes in the box. Up to that point, there was barely any physicality or oomph shown by the Sharks. It was a great way for Dillon, donning his new colors, to make his presence known.
The Sharks continued their lackluster performance until late in the second period when, finally, some offense occurred. Marc-Edouard Vlasic wristed one in from Tommy Wingels and Logan Couture. Wingels has continued to be a top contributor with 16 points so far this season, and Couture has stepped up his game as well. So it was horrible to see what happened early in the third period – Couture had a seemingly unintentional run in with Michael Raffl that sent him to the dressing room to go through concussion protocol. No call was made on the ice and he didn’t return to the game. Coach McLellan commented that “he looks okay, but he’ll be re-evaluated [Wednesday] morning.”
Another star starting to shine brighter is Matt Nieto – nowhere more apparent in the final 11 seconds of the game. A breakaway from Nieto to Patrick Marleau then back to Nieto, after a second effort, resulted in the game-winning goal. Plus, it was his second goal in as many consecutive games. Confidence sure was the theme of the night, as Nieto reflected in a post-game interview: “Last game I got an empty-netter, and even though it didn’t seem like much it was a huge confidence builder. They come in bunches, so I’ve been patient all year and just tried to stick to my game. [I’m] glad to see that it’s paying off the last two games.” McLellan was very pleased as well:
“[Nieto] made a tremendous read in the neutral zone, created a turnover, and it wasn’t the first follow up by Wingels, it was the second one. So give him credit for sticking with it. We weren’t very good in the first period… but we stuck with it and got a little better as the night went on. Good to see those results.”
Characteristically, in seasons past, the Sharks have always dominated the Pacific Division early on. The opposite is true this year, as they are just barely in a playoff position. Those two very valuable points from the Flyers boosted them into their current position, but anything can happen in this long season. Another uncommon occurrence? Empty seats at SAP Center. Where usually sellout crowds come in masses for games, a 205 consecutive game sellout streak ended this year.
The Sharks host the Boston Bruins on Thursday night, a game in which their character will be tested. Can they keep up the confident stride?