Friday, December 12, 2008

Battle of the Pacific? This Is No Battle, Sharks Win Again

There was a wall around Evgeni Nabokov Thursday night, and he earned his first shut-out of the year. And I mean earned it.

Before getting hurt, Nabby's play was sub-standard. His save percentage was under .900 and his back-up was outplaying him in GAA, shut-outs, winning and save percentage.

Since his return November 26, he is 6-0-1 with a 1.87 GAA with a .929 save percentage and last night's 31-save shutout. Only once has he allowed more than two goals, and that was in overtime.

But as always, Nabby was quick to defer credit. "The shutout was just icing on the cake. Everyone chipped in."

His counterpart did well for Anaheim. Jonas Hiller stopped 25 of 27 shots, including a couple dynamite chances and all eleven he faced in the third period. Only Devin Setoguchi and Patrick Marleau were able to beat him.

So once again, the Sharks won in a game when they were out-shot. They may lead in the league in shots on goal and shot differential, but they are unbeaten when they are out-shot. This was another game that was by no means a statement win, but showed that this year's Sharks are plucky enough to win when they do not dominate.

Things were chippy early in this contest, with Brett Festerling checking Jeremy Roenick from behind against the boards, a play very similar to the Mike Grier check a few games back that got him a match penalty, though certainly not as hard. Nevertheless, it clearly should have been called boarding.

JR was able to return later, but said after the game, "it's not good." But the Sharks showed they could deal with this kind of crossing-the-line play like their coach's last team, Detroit: score.

With three minutes left in the opening period, the defencemen were pinching up, and Dan Boyle did a great job to keep the Sharks on the attack. Marleau and Mike Grier took up the positions on the point, Marcel Goc got the puck back to Grier on the left, and he passed it across to Marleau for the one-timer.

Just 36 seconds later, the Ducks do what they do, with George Parros, who is nothing but a no-talent thug, getting the best of the Sharks' Jody Shelley—who for the record is not much more. This reminded me of why I cannot stand Anaheim: I got involved in sports for the sportsmanship, and where I was raised, you didn't try to beat someone up just because they scored on you.

No matter, the Sharks just kept playing their game. About mid-way through the second, Setoguchi got to a loose puck in front of the net, and spun off a shot with a defender on him that beat Hiller to the near side corner. Marleau and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic got the assists.

The Ducks did not respond immediately with thuggery, waiting instead until all hope was lost. With about 20 seconds left and their goalie pulled, Nabby stopped another one-timer. Corey Perry came to the net and responded to what could have been called a cross-check by Rob Blake by swinging his stick overhead down onto Blake.

Blake retaliated with a nasty spear, and once again only the retaliator was caught. He was given a match penalty, and in the ensuing scrum, Scott Niedermayer, Perry, and Milan Michalek got penalties.

Afterward, Niedermayer had a predictably one-sided view of the play: "Perry went to the net off a shot, and (Blake) just reacted with a spear. I was just kind of in the middle of the pile." There is no word yet on whether Blake will face a suspension.

With the win, the Sharks lead in the division grows to 7.5 games. They face St. Louis at HP Pavilion Saturday before embarking on a three-game road trip.

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