SAN JOSE- Former Sharks Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi have been a huge part of the early success for the Minnesota Wild this season. But on Thursday night the current Sharks made sure that first return trip to San Jose wasn’t a happy go reunion, at-least on the business side that is…
“We went out to dinner last night” said Torrey Mitchell, referring to himself and Setoguchi. “But we knew it would it be all business tonight. It was fun. He slashed me a couple times. He was chirping a little bit and I had some things to say to him.”
After a pretty mundane first period between the two clubs, the Sharks took over in the second period scoring all three of their goals in the middle frame.
Patrick Marleau opened the scoring on the power-play at the 2:34 mark when he was the recipient of some miscommunication between the Minnesota defense and Wild netminder Nicklas Backstrom. Marleau simply skated into a free puck at the bottom off the face-off circle and a quick shot beat and out of position Backstrom to the short side.
With just under five minutes remaining Marleau would add his second of the night as the Sharks power-play would strike again. With Wild defenseman Marco Scandella in the box for tripping Logan Couture, Marleau’s second of the night was more prototypical of the 40 goal scorer. Marleau hammered home a one-timer off a brilliant cross ice feed from Ryane Clowe.
“Just a great play by Clowie,” commented Marleau, who ended up as the game’s first star.
A little over three minutes later Mitchell would pop home his first goal of the year as he immediately fired home a shot directly off a face-off win in the offensive zone by Michal Handzus.
“Zeus is just so good on draws. He saw something and said line up here and one time it. I said ‘yes sir’” chimed Mitchell on his goal. “Worked out great.”
From there on out it was clear that the Sharks would be the team taking home the two points. Wild forward Kyle Brodziak got Minnesota on the board in the third period on a nice set up from defenseman Marek Zidlicky but it was the one real good chance the Wild had all night long.
Antti Niemi was strong between the pipes for the Sharks making a handful of above average saves and the defense in front of him prevented the Wild from hardly any second or third chances. The newer looking defensive pairs for San Jose were especially solid, those being Brent Burns and Colin White and Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun.
“I like playing with Whitey, he talks a lot” commented Burns on the new pairing. “You know it makes the game easy with communication. Even though we didn’t play a lot together before, when your talking things happen a lot easier.”
Burns—who along with Martin Havlat enjoyed earning the two points against their former club—had been playing mostly with Vlasic thus far on the season but just as forward combinations can go stale, so do defense pairs.
“We tinkered with [the new pairs] a few games ago. Whitey and Brent Burns are both very big men, both veteran guys who can play against anybody” commented Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. “Vlasic and Braunie continue to play real well. We know were not going to finish the year with pairs that are stuck together. We’re going to have to break them up, they do get stale but right now we like what we see.”
White, a long time New Jersey Devil whom the Sharks signed this offseason had previously been in and out of the lineup this season due to some early struggles. But the veteran defenseman has dressed for three games in a row now and has seemed to find his game like most of the Sharks.
Whether it’s White, Mitchell, Jamie McGinn or the much under-appreciated fourth line trio of Brad Winchester, Andrew Desjardins and Andrew Murray, ( the one line by the way which has remained essentially intact for all the games) the Sharks have been getting steady contributions up and down their lineup.
While the Wild came into Thursday’s match-up ahead of the Sharks in the standings and riding a five-game winning streak, they looked far from polished against San Jose. Sure the Sharks have been on quite a roll themselves lately, (now 8-1-1 in their last 10) but team teal made Minnesota look more like a team marred in a slump than on a winning streak.
“I thought our effort was good. We managed the game very well. We didn’t give up any opportunities” added McLellan. “Power-play clicked, penalty kill was fine. [We] talked about complete nights not that long ago and this was a close one again.”
Burns was only player amongst those playing their former employers to get on the score-sheet, as Burns picked up an assist on Marleau’s second goal of the game.
Heatley and Setoguchi both got ovations from the San Jose crowd when shown on the Jumbotron next to their Sharks statistics but Heatley (not surprisingly) had some boos mixed in. And late in the game with Minnesota on the power-play the Sharks fans were booing whenever Heatley touched the puck.