Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sharks Respond with Back-to-Back Wins in Canada

The San Jose Sharks came into Edmonton Friday night with a disturbing one win in their last six road games. Against teams that would be in the playoffs, they had two losses by three or more goals (Calgary, Detroit) and one in overtime (Minnesota).

Edmonton was a team on the bubble, much like the Dallas Stars that San Jose played last week. And just like that game, the Sharks came away victors, with Evgeni Nabokov allowing just one goal.

The Sharks got on board first with a power play goal 7:54 into the game, and just seven seconds into the penalty to Steve Staios. Joe Thornton won the faceoff back to Dan Boyle, who skated left and dropped the puck back to Devin Setoguchi; his slapshot was wired top shelf stick side on Shark-killer Dwayne Roloson.

Edmonton answered with a power play goal of their own. After San Jose created a short-handed scoring chance, the Oilers got a chance to set up their power play. With 37 seconds left in the hooking minor to Brad Staubitz, Denis Grebeshkov wristed a shot home past Nabby from Andrew Cogliano and defence-mate Lubomir Visnovsky.

Staubitz, born and raised for much of his childhood in Edmonton, got his revenge three minutes later with his first NHL goal, a simple slapshot that went off the glove of Roloson. Douglas Murray got his first point of the season with the primary assist, and Alexei Semenov got the secondary assist, his first point as a forward and second of the year.

With 36 seconds left in the first, Patrick Marleau did what he commonly does: answer with a goal of his own after Setoguchi has scored, maintaining the team lead. Rob Blake tried to shoot the puck at the net from the point, but it was blocked; Setoguchi picked up the puck and whiffed on a shot, then tossed it to Marleau who slapped it home.

That goal was the last given up by Roloson, who was pulled between periods. It also moved Patty past his goal total from all of last season and gave Blake his 500th career assist.

Marleau did extend the lead on a power play with about three minutes to go in the second, after Nabby stopped a great short-handed scoring chance from the Oilers' captain, Ethan Moreau. San Jose advanced the puck, Joe Pavelski shot it into the zone, and Patty got it to Seto, who found Pavelski back on the point. Little Joe's pass looked like one of Jumbo Joe's, coming tape-to-tape from the blueline to a wide-open Marleau at the faceoff dot on the far side for the easy one-timer past Matthieu Garon.

The game was marred by 16 penalties, four of which were fighting majors, and two injuries. Sheldon Souray left the game in the second with an "upper-body injury," and Robert Nilson crashed into the boards with the help of his friend and countryman Murray; he was able to skate away after a short time down.

The win in Edmonton assured Sharks coach Todd McLellan would coach the West in the All-Star game, making him only the second rookie coach to garner that honour. San Jose also out-shot the Oilers 31-26, but the game still did nothing to prove the Sharks were over their road woes.

If they were going to make that claim, they had to win their sixth straight over the Vancouver Canucks. While still without All-Star goalie Roberto Luongo (how does a guy who has played only 19 games and none since injuring himself November 22 get picked for the game?), the hosts had added future Hall of Famer Mats Sundin.

Vancouver had also played the night before—a disappointing 6-4 loss to the Western Conference's worst team, the St. Louis Blues. And while they did not have to travel like the Sharks, McLellan had gotten a chance to rest many of his stars in the third period against Edmonton.

With Nabby struggling in the second of back-to-back games in net, McLellan saw the wisdom in putting a very solid Brian Boucher in net. For the 13th time in 17 games with the Sharks, Boucher did not give up more than two goals.

Again San Jose got on the board first with a power play goal in the opening stanza. Ryan Clowe got the pass to a wide-open Joe Thornton who reverted to his annoying habit of looking solely to pass. The puck ended up squirting out Blake on the wing. He backhanded a sharp pass that went off the skate of a defender and past Curtis Sanford.

With eight seconds left in the first, on a Sharks penalty that probably should not have been called (there were plenty of those on both sides), Sundin got his first point as a Canuck.The Sharks spent much of the power play scrambling in their own end, including a period wherein Boucher lost his stick.

The score came when Henrik Sundin passed the puck to Kevin Bieksa, whose shot deflected to his new teammate alone on the weak side for the easy goal. The arena erupted and someone held up two front-door mats that said "Welcome" and "Mats."

Early in the second, Marcel Goc chipped the puck to Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, whose shot spun out to Mike Grier. The suddenly hot-scoring (four goals in four games, already matching the nine he scored last season) checking line forward and penalty-killer took a quick snapshot of the unsettled puck that Sanford could not read and put it in the glove-side corner.

Then Vancouver started to take over the game. En route to a 24-17 edge in shots through the fist two periods, Vancouver got a goal with just over five minutes to go from Daniel Sedin, with assists from Shane O'Brien and brother Henrik. Only several big saves in the period by Boucher kept the Sharks in this one.

However, while the hosts maintained pretty good pressure in the third period, the Sharks buckled down enough defensively to keep pucks from the net, allowing only two shots. Eventually, Vancouver lost that edge and their guests managed two Marleau goals among his team's ten shots.

The first went off his skate and was reviewed because he did make a distinct kicking motion; however, by the time he did the puck was already on its way through Sanford's five-hole. Assists went to Dan Boyle and Thornton, who now has 40 assists through 41 games.

The second goal came with 2:06 left, after Tomas Plihal forced Sanford to turn the puck over behind the net. His efforts to get the puck in front of the net were rewarded when Patty's backhand found paydirt.

San Jose has now reached the half-way point with a four-point lead in the West over Detroit and a one-point lead over the Boston Bruins (67-66) for best record in the league. Boston has also played one more game, but San Jose has played one more at home and two fewer on the road.The Sharks play six of their next seven at home, where they do not have a loss in regulation (19-0-2).


The Robber Baron said...

So how many points will the Sharks finish ahead of the rest of the pacific? 20+? Additionally, got to love how none of the other writers have done anything in almost a month. Fare weather fans??

MJ Kasprzak said...

Fair-weather? Nah, but not as dedicated as me, obviously! And I think it will be 25+ points. I have us getting between 120-125, and Anaheim getting 95+.