Monday, November 17, 2008

Sharks Outplayed by Chicago, Win Anyway

You could have billed this as a competition between the defenceman the Sharks acquired late last season, Brian Campbell, to put them over the hump and the one who replaced him, Dan Boyle.

Or a chance for the Sharks to get revenge on the player who bolted from the very house of his childhood friend (Joe Thornton) for a big contract. Or for Chicago to avenge the 11 straight losses they have suffered at the hands of San Jose.

Ultimately, all of those storylines were in play, no matter how much everyone denied it. You listen to the fans bellyache about their team's struggles against a particular opponent, and as a human being who appreciates those who pay your ample salary, you want to make it right.

When a player leaves, you understand it's a business and even the reasoning that a player wants to be closer to home. But you also feel at least a little betrayed. If you are that player or his replacement, you want to show you were worth that contract or your new team is better off than with the other guy.

Boyle scored two goals, Campbell scored only one but added two assists. Tough to call a winner there. Thornton added a goal and an assist.

But the bottom line is who won, and that was the Sharks, 6-5. The power play clicked, getting four goals for the second straight game; the unit has gone 8 for 15 in those contests. In the process, it has jumped from the bottom half of the league into the top 20 percent.

This one was not pretty, unless you are one of those Philistines who just wants to see scoring instead of sound fundamental hockey. The Sharks jumped out to a 1-0 lead on the second period of the game when Joe Pavelski's face-off win came back to Milan Michalek, who snapped off a quick wrist shot high to Christabol Huet's glove side.

But Sharks goalie Brian Boucher gave it back. Handling a puck behind the net on the power play, he hesitated until Chicago rookie Kris Versteeg was close enough to worry about, then threw it toward him. Versteeg poke checked it away from Boucher's stick, recovered it, and backhanded it into the goal before Boucher could stop him.

On the very next shift, Thornton bailed out his teammate, coming up with a loose puck and burying it; Devin Setoguchi and Patrick Marleau got assists. That goal held up until the last two and a half minutes of the period, when Campbell slapped home a D-to-D pass along the blueline from Cam Barker; Martin Havlat got the secondary assist and caused the Sharks problems all night with his ability to penetrate with his puck handling.

Not to be outdone, Boyle got his first power play goal of the game on a pass from Pavelski (Marc-Eduoard Vlasic got the second assist) less than six minutes into the second period. Jeremy Roenick scored his first goal of the season on his former team just over three minutes later, gobbling up a turnover by Brent Sopel and faking Huet to his far side before putting a backhand in near side.

But the Sharks were being outplayed in the second period, as rare a thing for them as being out-shot (31-33 in this game and 15-6 in the second); ironically San Jose is 3-0 when the latter happens. Less than two minutes later, Versteeg got his second goal by bouncing it off a sprawling Boucher from behind the net; Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane got assists.

The pressure of Chicago finally caught up with the Sharks in a big way at the end of the period, as they drew back-to-back penalties and scored on both 18 seconds apart in the last three minutes, and Campbell got the primary assist on both.

On the first, he returned the favour with a D-to-D pass along the blueline to Barker after a feed from Toews. On the second, he took pass from Barker and faked a shot before passing to Kane on the wing for a one-timer.

It was a lesson the Sharks would apply themselves. On the power play in the third, Pavelski took a pass from Vlasic and faked a shot before finding Boyle in the very same place. It was so well-duplicated I am unsure why neither of the announcers or David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News noted was like watching a replay.

The equalizer for the Sharks came with 4:15 to go, and again on the power play. Thornton got the puck to Christian Ehrhoff at the point, and he found Setoguchi between the top of the circles for a fierce one-timer that Huet may never have even seen well because of the traffic provided by Marleau and Thornton.

Somehow, the Sharks made that hold up. But they made it interesting when Ryan Clowe took a bad penalty with over three minutes to go, then iced the puck with a minute left after coming out of the box and Huet pulled.

The Sharks are playing right now in Nashville (actually, the game must be over by now), and return home to play Washington Saturday.

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