(photo: Dinur Blum)
The San Jose Sharks hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night at SAP Center. The Leafs began their California road trip this week in Los Angeles on Monday and played the Anaheim Ducks the night before this one, both resulting in shutouts. Although hoping to get off the schneid against the Sharks and round out their California road trip on a high note, the Leafs would come up short in this one as the Sharks started their 7-game homestand with a win.
Notable lineup changes for the Sharks included Tyler Kennedy‘s return to the ice to replace Andrew Desjardins who has been out due to the birth of his son. Also for this line included Tomas Hertl at center, flanked by Tye McGinn and Kennedy. This change happened for the previous game on Tuesday at Arizona where Hertl scored. He had been on an eleven-game drought and once put on the fourth line, things started to change. It seems he is most comfortable at his familiar center position. Linemate Kennedy, who scored the first goal of this Leafs game at 11:05 in the first, noted the difference as well:
“Our line is clicking a little bit right now. I think we have to focus on the little things to be successful. And I think that’s what we’re doing right now. It’s just two games, and we have to keep moving on and get better.”
Thirteen seconds after Kennedy’s goal, Patrick Marleau scored, giving the Sharks a two-goal lead very early. Nearly three minutes later though, defenseman Roman Polak snapped the lead, and snapped the Leafs’ scoreless streak, in half. It was a weird goal, but a goal nonetheless: Polak shot wide and the puck bounced off the boards behind Antti Niemi and back to the side of the net, where Niemi was there a split second too late. So the Leafs wouldn’t leave California without a goal after all.
Besides a very late empty-netter with 44 seconds left in the third period by Tommy Wingels, that was all the scoring in this one.
The lack of goals weren’t for lack of trying, though. There were myriad close calls with weird bounces and rolls of the puck just inches from crossing the goal line on more than one occasion. San Jose had 42 shots on goal and Toronto had just over half that amount at 25. In fact, in the second period they only managed four shots and an additional eight in the third. On the other hand, some of the Sharks’ top guys really shined in the shot department – Marleau got 6 and Logan Couture got 7. Kennedy, on that good ol’ fourth line, got in 4 looks as well.
Joe Thornton credited a quick start for the win in this one, commenting in a post-game interview that “[the quick start] was probably one of our keys…We scored 2 within the first ten minutes. That won us the game.”
It’s worth noting that Niemi, although only faced with 25 shots in which he saved 24, was also a huge factor in the Sharks ability to win this one because of all those weird bounces around the net.
The Sharks face the Calgary Flames in game two of their seven at home in a Saturday night on ice showdown.