SAN JOSE — Usually when a well known player picks up a point in his first game with an new club, his arrival would headline post-game columns. That is exactly what Ian White did for the Sharks on Saturday by picking up a first period power play assist in San Jose’s 4-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche.
But both his arrival and Antti Niemi’s third shutout in eight games were overshadowed by a fantastic performance by right wing Devin Setoguchi.
The 24-year-old Alberta native recorded his first career hat trick in his 246th NHL game. That may not sound like a lot of games but for the speedy right wing with high goal scoring expectations, it was a long time coming.
“I think I have had 12, maybe 13 two-goal games,” Setoguchi said. “It always sits in the back of your mind, it’ feels good to get one, the first one anyway.”
Not having a hat trick probably doesn’t sit in the back of the minds of every type of player but for a former 30-goal scorer, it definitely seemed to be a relief. As for how the three goal night developed, it was clear early that it just might be the night.
Setoguchi would bag his first two goals in the opening stanza, staking the Sharks out to a 2-0 lead. The first came just over six minutes into the game when a brilliant pass from defenseman Jason Demers found Setoguchi streaking up the middle of the neutral zone.
“Yeah, [the pass'] was great. It was kind of a controlled breakout,” described Setoguchi. “I swung away and then started going through the middle and just took a quick look at him [Demers] and yelled for it. He put it right on my tape at top speed.”
After receiving the pin point pass in stride as he entered the offensive zone, Setoguchi then split the defense and buried the goal with a slick fore-hand/back-hand move and finished it off top shelf past Avalanche netminder Peter Budaj.
Unfortunately for the Sharks they would lose one of their top penalty killers in Scott Nichol shortly thereafter. Nichol went awkwardly into the boards in an attempted check and looked to injury either his wrist or his hand. San Jose killed off the penalty but Nichol wouldn’t return for the remainder of the game.
Moments after the kill, San Jose would get their first opportunity on the power-play as Kyle Wellwood went hard to the net on a three-on-two rush and drew a two-minute holding minor. The Sharks’ first power-play unit would be held in check by the Avalanche penalty kill but the second-unit would cash in during the second minute of the man advantage.
White, the newest Shark would fire a slap shot from the point that missed wide to the left of Budaj. However, a fortuitous bounce for the Sharks saw the puck carom right off the end boards and out the opposite side where Setoguchi was Johnny on the spot to bury it into the wide open net.
Asked if his wide shot could have even possibly been a set play in just his first game with the team, White admitted it was unintentional but then jokingly agreed that it was planned.
“I thought it was going to get on net but I think it hit one of our guys in front,” White said,”but yeah, that was the plan.”
As for his general thought on his first game with the new club?
“We got an unbelievable group of guys here. Lots of speed, lots of skill, so it makes it a lot easier on my part,” he chimed. “Your allowed to play your game [here], you know everyone can read the play and make things happen. As long as I’m not making too many mistakes, I’m sure the [coaches] will let me keep going.”
White would finish the game with 18:08 in ice time as the Sharks had no need to overwork their newest acquisition.
Just a couple of minutes after White assisted on Setoguchi’s second goal, the Sharks were back on the power-play and back to putting the puck in the net. Thanks to a creative head man pass by Boyle that went off the neutral zone boards and nearly on the tape of a streaking Joe Pavelski, the Sharks would go back on the man advantage. The nearly perfect pass forced Budaj to come out of his net to clear the puck and his clearing attempt sailed over the boards for a delay of game minor.
That would set the table for what would be Ryane Clowe’s 16th goal of the year. A brilliant keep in at the offensive blue-line by Joe Thornton allowed the Sharks captain to sneak a pass through to Logan Couture who then had a semi-two-on-one attack with Clowe.
Couture dished a backhand feed to his linemate on the left wing and fortunately for the Sharks, Clowe’s attempted return feed bounced right back to him off the Colorado defender, creating a huge opening to the short-side. Clowe simply deposited a wrister into the upper left corner that had opened up with Budaj having slid to his left on the intended pass.
And just like that, the recently sputtering power-play had converted three straight times–dating back to the third-period winner by Dany Heatley in the previous game against the Capitals.
And just like that, the Sharks had a 3-0 first period lead, an early cushion they’ve rarely been able to play with.
“We set ourselves up pretty good with that start,” said Clowe. “We worked hard for our goals, our power play was a big factor.”
Despite the lopsided score, Clowe didn’t shy away from criticizing his squad’s second period performance where the Sharks were out-shot, 11-4.
“The second period was…give a lot credit to ‘Nemo’ (Niemi) there,” he said. “We kind of stopped skating, didn’t have any forecheck really. We were a little sloppy…big saves at the right time in the second kind of kept the momentum going.”
While the second period may not have been San Jose’s best, their overall performance for the game and in recent games has demonstrated a fresh look of cohesiveness. Earlier in the season it seemed as if there were a lot of individuals out there doing too much, forcing things to happen. During the six-game losing streak in January, the gaps between forwards and defense were especially evident.
However, the recent success for team teal has unmistakably come in large part to the players performing as a much more fluid five-men units compared to three forwards and two defensemen.
For instance on Saturday fans saw Heatley helping out Douglas Murray free a puck loose behind the Sharks net.
And then there was Murray leading an offensive rush and Niclas Wallin jumping up numerous times as the late man in on the attack.
Every player in the lineup seems to be contributing at both ends of the ice. That simply wasn’t happening earlier in the season.
Setoguchi would add his hat-trick goal late in the third as he stole the puck in the neutral zone leading to a breakaway. This time around Setoguchi went for the shot, beating Budaj through the five hole.
It may have been garbage time, but Setoguchi will take it and so will the fans who get a free personal pizza from round table because of it. (Roundtable offers a four in the net, pizza you get deal for attendees of Sharks games).
Jamal Mayers fought with Cody McLeod in the first period.
Antti Niemi made 25 saves for his fifth shutout of the season.
Jason Demers picked up two assists, a game after posting a career high 28:12 in ice time.