Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sharks Prove They Can Play the Shootout

In Wednesday's San Jose Mercury News, there was an article in which Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich, the two blueline transfers from the Tampa Bay Lightning, suggested there is no real difference between the Eastern and Western Conferences.

Really? Because the only two games the Sharks have played against the East so far say otherwise.

Saturday night, the Sharks survived with a 5-4 overtime victory. Four nights later, they needed a shootout to emerge victorious 7-6.

And what a shootout it was. The first period began ominously, when on the first shift of the first Sharks power play (on a penalty drawn on the first shift of the game, no less), Jeff Carter scores his second short-handed goal in as many games.

Then the Sharks answered with power play goals on their next two chances, and Joe Pavelski was key in both. The first was a Pavelski redirect of a Christian Ehrhoff shot; the second was a Ryan Clowe put-back of a Pavelski redirect of a Marc-Eduoard Vlasic shot. Thus, they had a 2-1 lead just 8:40 into the game.

But it would not last, as the Flyers' captain Mike Richards scored the game's first even-strength goal less than three and a half minutes later. The Sharks captain Patrick Marleau answered back less than four minutes with a backdoor open net in front of him thanks to a beautiful feed from Devin Setoguchi.

My favourite whipping boy, Alexei Semenov, got an assist on this goal. Since I have been so hard on him, I feel it is my responsibility to point out that he had his best game as a Shark, with no visible mistakes en route to earning a +1.

He also made three other big plays that don't appear on a scoresheet, including two in the first period. He was the only guy able to clear a puck after three or four tries, and he crashed the net and occupied a defender to allow Setoguchi to clean up his own rebound. In the second, he went down to the ice to cut off passing lanes when he was without his stick.

After Marleau's first goal, Scottie Upshall scored on a power play rebound to tie it back up before Setoguchi's goal at the end of the first gave the Sharks a 4-3 lead at intermission.

The Flyers came out with Martin Biron instead of Anterro Nittymaki in the second, but no goalie had any real success stopping the puck. Evgeni Nabokov stopped 23 of 29 (.793) for his third straight bad game; Nittymaki stopped 11 of 15 (.733) and Biron stopped 18 of 20 (.900), but practically gave Marleau his second goal by overplaying him and giving up the wrap-around just 47 seconds into the third period.

Joffrey Lupul faked Nabby to the ice before going top shelf from a tough angle early in the second. He also answered Marleau's second goal just 17 seconds later. Dan Boyle had a goal in the second, and Daniel Briere scored a power play goal in the final minute of the third with Biron pulled for the extra attacker.

In the shootout, Nabby stopped both shooters he faced, waiting out Richards even after going to the ice and stopping Briere's backhand attempt with the help of a well-timed pokecheck. Both Sharks shooters, Pavelski and former Flyer Jeremy Roenick, scored on wristers to clinch the win.

But the entire game was an Eastern Conference-style shootout. I have news for you, Dan and Brad, this is not what it's like out here in the West.

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