Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sharks-Stars: If Only All Games Were Against the Pacific

The Stars have played better since shelving Sean Avery, and the Sharks have been vulnerable. On the road, coming off an overtime loss, this looked like a tough game to win.

Not if Evgeni Nabokov had anything to say about it. He turned away 28 of 29 shots, with the only one he let in being a fluke: Alexei Semenov, playing for Christian Ehrhoff (healthy scratch) reached up to catch a shot and deflected it past his teammate and fellow-countryman with 5:03 to play.

Drew Remenda and Randy Hahn talked about the potential for Semenov to be the goat in what was suddenly a one-goal game. I have derided Semenov as hard as anyone, but there is no way a bad break when he was doing his job makes him a goat, no matter how things turn out.

But just to make sure, he laid out to block a shot in the final minute that helped not only preserve the win, but spring the Sharks' first empty-net goal of the season; Pavelski followed with another block and then got the puck to Ryan Clowe all alone in the offensive zone.

The score with just over a minute left sealed the game, and the Sharks (3-0-0) cannot lose the season series with Dallas (0-3-0). The fact that San Jose had the second-ranked offense in the league without an empty net goal is remarkable.

Nabby was unbeatable any other way, and has been tremendous since coming back from injury, with the exception of the time he played the world champions after an overtime struggle and flight the previous night. If the Sharks have the net shored up, they are going to hard to stop.

San Jose got the first goal from Jonathan Cheechoo 15:10 into the game, even though Dallas had been controlling the play more than their guests. Joe Thornton got the puck back to Dan Boyle on the point, and his one-timer was tipped by Cheech, who has a four-game points streak and five points in the five games since returning from an "upper-body injury."

There were not any more scores until the third period. On the team's 15th shot of the game with 16:05 to play, Milan Michalek scored his eighth goal of the season from his knees. Thornton and Clowe got the assists; San Jose got only four more shots the whole game, including the empty-netter.

San Jose plays in Minnesota on New Year's Eve Day before making a one-game stop at home. Too bad they cannot play a division rival again: San Jose is 9-2 in 11 division games, and has only 13 remaining.

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