(photo: Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
Riddled with injuries, the San Jose Sharks hosted the Minnesota Wild in a wet and wild day in the Bay Area Thursday night. Marc-Edouard Vlasic was questionable with an upper body injury while both Matt Nieto and Mike Brown were put on IR. Therefore, the Sharks recalled Matt Tennyson and Chris Tierney from Worcester. Tennyson got substantial ice time (and was a plus-1) and Mirco Mueller also helped pick up the slack with an absent Vlasic. Antti Niemi got banged up before the Oilers game last Sunday, giving Alex Stalock a chance. And, after two consecutive wins, McLellan rewarded him with his third consecutive start, for the first time in his NHL career, against the Wild. With many line changes and combinations being played around with in the last several games means the Sharks are still in transition mode to find an identity, amid dealing with injuries. The last few games they have established somewhat of an identity and it was prudent that they stayed consistent with that identity in this game.
The third-best power play team, the Sharks, were up against the second-best penalty killing team, the Wild, in the first period. Not only did they kill the penalty, the Wild also had a shorthanded chance that dinged off the crossbar.
Melker Karlsson, in his second game with the Sharks, already had 2 shots on goal in the first, followed by a shot on goal by Zach Parise about a minute later. Both sides were getting shots off, 9 shots for the Sharks, including one on that power play, to the Wild’s 5 shots. The teams were playing fast, physical hockey, but with no score by the end of the first, we wondered if any of those shots would get past Stalock or Darcy Kuemper.
Toronto wanted to see a possible goal that was called on the ice as a no-goal, by Minnesota about two minutes into the second period. After video review, the call on the ice stood. With the way things were going, it was clear that the first goal would probably be the most important goal in this matchup.
4-on-4s leave a lot of open ice, and the Sharks almost paid the price in the second period. Mueller got caught up and Stalock was wide open, but Logan Couture made a great defensive play to keep this game at zero. The Sharks were giving up odd-man rushes, too, and if it wasn’t for some great saves by Stalock, this game would be very tilted.
The Sharks went on the power play again, and this time, the Wild were not able to kill it. Brent Burns received a nifty pass from Justin Braun, and one-timed it from the blue line and blasted it to the back of the net. Burns had the Sharks’ last goal in the 5-2 game versus the Edmonton Oilers, and he got the first goal here. Speaking of Burns, that was his ninth goal on the year, ranking him second among all defensemen for goals. An added bonus was that it was the all-important first goal in this game.
Clearing the zone in the third period was a big problem for the Sharks. The curse of being ahead and not being able to keep a lead was creeping up on them again. The Wild would get that no-goal call back by defenseman Christian Folin, with his first NHL goal. Another curse the Sharks seem to have – letting the other team get “firsts.” Folklore or not, luck just doesn’t seem to be on their side sometimes.
The excitement of scoring his first goal was short-lived, however, when (Joe) Thornton passed one to (Joe) Pavelski. The Joe to Joe combo is magnificent, and nothing more magnificent was Pavelski’s execution of the goal, even getting down on one knee to shoot the puck. He makes goals look pretty. The Sharks got the lead right back. So maybe the curse was lifting. Folin reflected on his first ever NHL goal after the limelight was stolen: “We talked about getting a good start to the third period, and I think we did with my goal there. But it’s tough when they score right away like that.”
The Wild got another chance on a power play, but were held with no shots on either man-advantages.
Kuemper was pulled with about two minutes left of play and Marleau shot wide of the empty net. No matter, though. The Sharks won 2-1 and ended the night with 30 shots on goal, to Wild’s 19 shots.
Another interesting statistic to note, the Sharks blocked 23 shots, which was two under their season-high of 25 blocked shots in early November against the New York Islanders. This kind of defense and putting themselves in the line of fire are what the team needs to do, and it has paid off.