Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sharks Dominate Ovechkin, Capitals in 7-2 Rout

The Sharks cleared another hurdle in their impressive first season under coach Todd McLellan: they played well rusty.

In years' past, the Sharks were notoriously vulnerable after a long lay-off. Saturday night, while struggling to control play and getting only five shots on goal, they still tallied three first period scores and never looked back.

The game also had a physical element from the start.

Defenceman Douglas Murray chipped a puck in and leveled the forward racing toward the puck. A couple of shifts later, Jody Shelley checked Donald Brashear against the boards behind the Washington goalline right after Brashear advanced the puck, and the two enforcers went at it.

It was a good fight, but Brashear, in my opinion the toughest guy in hockey, ended up on top and bloodied Shelley's nose. He also taunted the Sharks and their fans on the way to the box, with both penalties coming just 3:24 into the game.

Just over nine minutes into the game, defenceman Dan Boyle took a Devin Setoguchi feed from behind the goalline and skated until he had a passing lane. He got the puck to Patrick Marleau just inside the face-off circle to Brent Johnson's glove side, and the captain put a wristshot to the far side half-way up on the first shot of the game for the Sharks.

It took the Sharks just over three minutes to add to that score, but they needed a little help from Washington defenceman Shaone Morrison. Milan Michalek got the puck to the point, where Rob Blake fired it on net. Ryan Clowe got his stick on the rebound, and in trying to clear the puck away, Morrison tipped it into his own net.

Again it took the Sharks only about three more minutes to increase their lead. On the first power play of the game, Marleau got the puck to Thornton in the corner, who flipped a backhand pass to Setoguchi at the face-off dot on Johnson's glove side. Setoguchi's one-timer was wired to the corner on the far side just five seconds after the power play expired, and the Sharks had three goals on five shots in a 6:32 stretch.

Washington responded with a strong opening to the second period, culminating in a score 7:56 in. Blake Sloan got the puck to the net, and Matt Bradley got his stick on it in the scramble. As the puck skitted along the goalline, Tom Poti punched it in from his stomach after being knocked down.

However, that seemed to wake the Sharks up. On the third power play of the game, Marc-Eduoard Vlasic took a feed from Boyle and shot-passed it to Joe Thornton, who redirected it into the net through a screen by Setoguchi.

With the team on a four-on-four in the last minute of the second, Vlasic took a pass from Blake and put it home to all but end the game; Jonathan Cheechoo, relegated to the third line since returning from injury, got the secondary assist.

Instead of resting on their laurels as Ron Wilson's Sharks used to (and, indeed, his Maple Leafs did against Chicago Saturday night), McLellan's Sharks smelled blood in the water and attacked. With a 16-15 shots on goal deficit, San Jose outshot Washington 13-5 in the final period.

The Sharks did surrender the first goal. With Setoguchi in the box for hooking, Nicklas Backstrom got the puck to Alex Ovechkin on the point. Faking a slapshot to get the defense down, he passed to Tomas Fleischmann just outside the crease on Brian Boucher's glove side for the easy one-timer. The assist kept alive Ovechkin's point streak at six and was his first point against San Jose in three career games.

However, it took the home team just 3:25 to answer on a power play of their own. Blake took a pass from Boyle and fed Clowe in the face-off circle the Sharks were doing all their damage. Clowe faked a shot and fed it back to Blake, who one-timed it on goal. Clowe crashed the net and put home the easy rebound.

It was not Blake's last time on the score sheet, either. He head-manned the puck to Jeremy Roenick with a minute to go, and Roenick fed a pass through traffic to Mike Grier, who managed to get just enough on a backhand while muscling off a defender to get it past Johnson. The Sharks spent the final 52 seconds passing the puck back and forth in their defensive zone to run out the clock.

After the game, McLellan said Evgeni Nabokov would be returning to net in the Sharks next game, Wednesday night at HP Pavilion against Chicago. He was dressed for Saturday's game, but McLellan had said he wanted him to get a few more practices before facing game situations. Boucher was 5-1-1 in relief of Nabokov.

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