Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sharks Sweep Weekend Divisional Set

The Sharks own this division, and everyone else knows it. Only the Anaheim Ducks really have a chance to catch San Jose, and they are six games back with a split in the two games of the season series.

Even with 58 games to go, that hill is a tough one to climb. If the Sharks play .600 hockey the rest of the way (they are currently playing .854 hockey), they will earn 70 points and finish with 111. That means the Ducks would have to get 82 points (and at least seven more wins than San Jose) to catch them, a .707 clip--over 100 percentage points higher than they currently are playing.

In other words, if the Sharks do over one-quarter worse than they currently are, the Ducks still have to do more than ten percent better than they currently are. What do you really think the chances of that are?

And it's worse for the other division teams. Los Angeles is in second place but has lost both of the season match-ups; they are eight games out. The Coyotes have split in the two match-ups so far, but are now nine games back. Dallas has lost both and are 10.5 back.

The latter two teams are the Sharks' latest victims. On Friday evening, the Stars were no match for the Sharks, being thoroughly gutted 6-2.

The Sharks out-shot Dallas 30-27 and still blocked twice as many shots (12-6). Despite losing the face-off battle 32-31, the Sharks had possession of the puck more, thanks in large part to the Stars having 15 giveaways to the Sharks' nine. Yet despite being on the attack more, they were only out-hit by Dallas 17-16.

The Sharks got the most of their early opportunities, while Dallas did not. In the first seven minutes of the game, the Stars had two prime chances. On the first, Brad Lukowich was able to tie up the stick of Landon Wilson. On the second, Mike Modano had a shot at the open net at the backside and could not get good wood on it.

But with just over eight minutes remaining in the first, Ryan Clowe intercepted Matt Niskanen's attempt to advance the puck out of the zone and kept control of it in the offensive zone even though his feet were behind the blueline. He stick-handled his way around Mark Parrish, skated back in and let go a shot from above the circle on the left wing; Joe Pavelski deflected it home.

Dallas did answer back 91 seconds later, with Brad Richards feeding Loui Ericsson the puck from behind the net and Ericsson putting it home off Rob Blake.

But the Sharks earned a power play 1:11 later, when Wilson high-sticked Dan Boyle; it took only ten seconds for them to get a score. Joe Thornton won the face-off back to Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, who advanced the puck up to Patrick Marleau on the half-boards. Marleau fed it across to Boyle, who slapped it hom from the point through a Thornton screen.

Four minutes later, Jeremy Roenick took a pass from Devin Setoguchi and chipped it back to him behind the goalline. Niskanen had a body on him, so he poked it to Thornton on the other side of the net, who found a wide open Boyle pinching down between the circles; Marty Turco never had a chance to make that save, and the Sharks went into the locker room with a 3-1 lead.

The Sharks extended a couple streaks with their first period success, too. All three first line forwards saw their point-streaks extended to seven games, and the Sharks streak of games with a power play goal was extended to eight straight; during that streak, they are 17-48 (35.4 percent). By contrast, San Jose had given up only 14 power play goals all season in 89 chances.

The Sharks struggled on the first power play of the second period, but still got the same result. Finally able to control the puck in the attacking zone from behind the goalline, Clowe sent it up the boards to Pavelski on the right wing half-boards. He passed to Blake, took the puck back, and quickly fed it between the circles to Clowe, whose shot caromed to Milan Michalek all alone in front of the crease for the easy score.

Near the end of the period, the Sharks widened the lead when Thornton took a carom off the endboards from Setoguchi, skated up the half-boards and fed it up to Blake for the one-timer. That was the last goal Turco would give up, facing 19 shots and saving only 14 (.737 save percentage), but the only goal he even had a chance to stop was the first, and it is hard to blame a goalie for a deflection.

Regardless, Dallas started the second period with Stephan Tobias in net. While he stopped 10 of 11, about half-way through the third he gave up a goal to Tomas Plihal. Roenick attacked up the middle and dropped the puck to Ryan Clowe along the boards just inside the blueline on the right wing. Clowe fed a cross-ice pass to Plihal, whose shot from the face-off dot on the left wing found the corner on the near side.

Dallas got a goal in garbage time, with James Neal showing incredible puck control to skate backwards with the puck in front of the crease until he could get clear of Nabokov and put it home. Parrish and Mike Ribiero got the assists.

Notes: Pavelski and Richards entered the game with the most points for any player without a penalty, and Richards had the league's longest active streak without one dating back to last season. Both were whistled for minors in the third period.

The Sharks game against Phoenix was not televised except on NHL Centre Ice, just as their first match-up. However, this was the reverse of the last one, in which the tired Sharks (also playing in Phoenix the day after a match-up with the Stars) jumped out to an early two-goal lead before relaxing and losing.

This time, the Sharks gave up a goal on the first shift to Derrick Morris through an army of bodies, with assists by Shane Doan and Peter Mueller. Less than three minutes later and 12 seconds into a power play, Ed Jovanovski shot one from the point, Doan got the rebound and tipped the puck over to Kyle Turris for the easy goal.

But the Sharks scored on the only two shots they got on Ilya Bryzgalov. Michalek tried a wrap-around but the puck was blocked. Clowe tried to knock it home, but it was Pavelski who got to the loose puck and got it through traffic with 15:45 left in the first. Just 1:11 later, Marcel Goc took the puck from Plihal and fed it to Rob Blake pinching in along the boards for the one-timer.

Bryzgalov was the Sharks' second goaltending victim in as many days because Blake's shot was not from a good angle. Then both goalies settled things down.

It was not until the third period that the Sharks got the go-ahead goal and eventual game-winner. Lukowich took a pass from Michalek and shot it toward the net. Pavelski got a stick on it and then put the rebound home through the legs of a defender, and the Sharks made it hold up as the game-winner.

San Jose rang two shots off the goalpost in a span of two or three seconds on a late power play, but could not cash in, ending their streak of games with a goal on the man advantage at eight. None of the top line forwards scored, either, ending that streak for all of them at seven games.

However, the Sharks have extended their winning streak to seven games and completed their best-ever two months with a 20-3-1 record. They face the Toronto Maple Leafs and former coach Ron Wilson Tuesday night at 7:30pm PST at HP Pavilion.

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