Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Sharks Fans: San Jose Wraps This Gift Early

First, if you are a secularist offended when someone wishes you a Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays, you need to get over yourself. If you are a Christian who constantly says there is a war on Christmas just because the store you shop at wishes you Happy Holidays to make sure they don't offend anyone, you do not understand what it means for your faith to be under attack.

As a Sharks fan who celebrates Christmas, I look at the game Tuesday night, the day before Christmas Eve, as a gift wrapped in Teal. It was not perfect, but it was decisive.

It took just 4:22 seconds for the Sharks to get on board. Jonathan Cheechoo got a pass from Ryan Clowe and fired a shot on net that bounced off Vancouver goalie Corey Schneider to the wing. Rob Blake was pinching up and put in the rebound easily.

Henrik Sedin took a penalty 1:16 later, and the Sharks needed just 17 seconds to cash in on the power play. Off the face-off, the Sharks got the puck to Dan Boyle, who shot the puck from the point. Joe Thornton tipped it to Marleau, who circled behind the net and roofed it from a steep angle through a screen by Joe.

Then things got chippy. Former Nashville Predators bad-boy Darcy Hordichuk tried to goad Jody Shelley into a fight. While it didn't work, Mattias Ohlund's check in the back of Tom Cavanagh seconds later nearly did.

Instead, the Sharks did what the world champion Red Wings have always done when someone takes a run at one of them: score on the subsequent power play. This time it took 40 seconds for Marleau to take the puck from Boyle and pass it into the slot for Devin Setoguchi, who redirected it past Schneider.

The Sharks blew three consecutive power plays that included almost two minutes of five-on-three time in the middle of the period. San Jose also caught a break when Tomas Plihal's follow-through caught Alex Edler in the face with just over two minutes to go in the first, drawing considerable blood, but was missed by the officials. (This happens an inexcusable number of times in this league—I can understand missing it occasionally or being wary of a Mike Ribiero-style fake job, but when someone is bleeding profusely?)

Instead of starting the second period on the penalty kill, the Sharks got an even-strength goal on their first shift. Marleau's pass to Setoguchi resulted in a shot that left a rebound for Thornton, who slid it through a narrow opening between Schneider's skate and the post with his back to the goal.

Just 19 seconds later, Plihal stole the puck on a bad turnover and shot it past Schneider from the slot, chasing the goalie from the game. At that point, the Sharks set a record for the fastest five goals in franchise history and were out-shooting Vancouver 15-4.

For the rest of the game, the Sharks seemed to sit on the lead; Vancouver ended up winning the shots-on-goal battle 33-31. But Evgeni Nabokov made every save (as did Curtis Sanford, who relieved Schneider), and the Sharks avoided any big mistakes in finishing off the Canucks.

San Jose goes into the Christmas break with an 18-0-2 record at home and the fourth-longest streak in NHL history of home games without a regulation loss at 29. The record is 37 by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1976-77 and '77-78 seasons.

San Jose has a nine-and-a-half game lead over Anaheim in the division, and a three game lead over Detroit in the conference. Boston has closed to just a game-and-a-half of San Jose, however, and San Jose faces six of the next seven games on the road, starting Saturday in St. Louis.

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