SAN JOSE, Calif. – Coming off a three game road sweep of the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Calgary Flames, the San Jose Sharks returned home on quite a roll. Unfortunately, while the Sharks came away with a 2-1 shootout win over the lowly Colorado Avalanche, it was not as convincing as it should have been.
Despite facing the same team to which the Sharks beat 4-0 back on Feb. 19, San Jose came out of the gates relatively quietly. Through the first 10 minutes, the Sharks seemed exactly like a squad which had been off since Friday night. Missed passes led to failed breakout attempts and concurrently on the offensive end, scoring chances were few and far between for the Sharks.
Obviously the head coach wasn’t speaking the praises of his team’s first game back home.
“I thought we were a little bit flat and didn’t have the polish we needed” commented Sharks head coach Todd McLellan.
San Jose’s rookie sensation Logan Couture got caught for a holding the stick penalty a little past the half way mark of the opening frame. The Sharks’ No. 15 ranked penalty kill kept Colorado off the board, which appeared to jump start the squad out of their early game funk.
Couture’s line, centered by Joe Thornton and flanked on the right side by Devin Setoguchi, had a dominant shift spent almost entirely in the Avalanche zone before the trio of Joe Pavelski, Torrey Mitchell and Kyle Wellwood drew a penalty.
This recently formed “third line” for the Sharks was arguably the best forward combination on the evening based on their consistent zone time and ability to create power-play opportunities.
Not only did Pavelski draw a penalty in the first, but the trio accounted for 75 percent of team team’s power plays as both Wellwood and Mitchell also drew infractions in the second and third periods, respectively.
Only problem was the Sharks’ power-play was missing Dan Boyle.
“Danny’s one of the elite defensemen in the world, it works a little bit smoother when he’s in the lineup” Thornton said.
Coming into the night the Sharks’ power-play ranked third in the league but went 0-for-4 on Tuesday night against a 29th-ranked penalty kill.
“He’s our quarterback” McLellan said of Boyle, who missed his second straight game with an upper body injury.
With the man advantage struggling, it was apparent that San Jose would have to find a way to score at even strength in order come away with two points. In the second period the Sharks earned two power-play chances but did not bring the same level of execution in the middle frame that they had started to show towards the end of the first.
Whether at even strength or short-handed, the Avalanche appeared to lull the Sharks asleep. Even though the Sharks held a 19-10 shot advantage through 40 minutes, it was nowhere close to a similar style of domination in the previous meeting.
Colorado’s top defensemen in Erik Johnson and John-Michael Liles led Colorado’s defensive charge which kept most of San Jose’s 35 shots to the outside and without much traffic in front of goaltender Brian Elliott.
In the third, Colorado would break the scoreless tie just over a minute into the frame. With Sharks defenseman Niclas Wallin in the box for holding, Johnson would intercept a poor clearing attempt at the blue-line. Colorado’s newly acquired puck moving defenseman would waste no time snapping a long range wrister that fluttered past a partially screened Niemi into the top corner.
From that point forward the Sharks would carry the puck possession and offensive zone time but the Avalanche continued to do a tremendous job keeping the Sharks to the outside. Most evident in this case was how San Jose’s second line of Patrick Marleau, Ryane Clowe and Dany Heatley had been ghostly quiet for the majority of the game.
Furthermore, when Pavelski’s wrist shot from the high-slot clanged off the crossbar about half way through the period (one of San Jose’s few close calls on the night), you could hear a collective groan from the crowd. If a point blank opportunity from the quick release of Pavelski won’t go in, what will?
But when McLellan elected to flip flop Marleau and Couture on the top two lines, the familiar No. 1 line of Marleau, Thornton and Setoguchi (a trio that spent the majority of the ’08-’09 season together) found the equalizer.
After the three forwards had nearly stuffed a loose puck past Elliot with a little over three minutes to go, Thornton picked up the loose puck behind the net an fired a pass to the open right point. That’s where Demers—who had been guilty of the turnover earlier in the period that led to Johnson’s goal—fired a shot purposefully wide but right on the tape of Thornton who redirected it beautifully over the left shoulder of Elliot and into the far top corner.
“Jason just made a great play, he just shot for my stick. He had great eyes to get his head up” Thornton said of his goal. “I just had to lay my stick on it and put in in the empty net.”
Seoguchi would get credit for the secondary assist on the play, extending his hot streak to eight points in his last five games as the right-wing had by far the most jump of any Shark forward.
In overtime, Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray would wipe out the only prime scoring chance for either squad when he dove and cleared a puck away for what looked to be a breakaway for Avalanche defenseman Ryan Wilson. For the second straight game, the Sharks would find themselves in the shootout.
San Jose elected to take the first attempt in the shootout and sent out Newfoundland native Ryane Clowe to kick things off. Clowe would end up with a second straight shoot-out winner as he beat Elliot on the stick-side through the seven hole with a simple back-hand to fore-hand stickhandle and wrist shot. After that, neither Couture nor Pavelski would score for San Jose and Milan Hejduk, Matt Duchene and David Jones all came up empty for the Avalanche.
By virtue of the shoot-out win the Sharks would get the critical two points but clearly the overall performance needs to be be better. The resounding feel of the room was that of being more fortunate about getting the two points than satisfied.
The Avalanche, who were 1-8-1 in their previous 10 games and still sit 14th in the Western Conference, quite nearly stole two points from what had been a surging Sharks squad.
Nevertheless, San Jose has now won seven in a row and continue to trend upward. That said, it will take a much better effort on Thursday to knock of the second-place Detroit Red Wings.
Antti Niemi made 18 saves on 19 shots, being named the game’s first star but more-so by default as no one player vastly stood out for either squad.
Rookie winger Brand Mashinter played for the Sharks for the first time since Jan. 17 and registered 6:01 in ice time.