SAN JOSE- The Vancouver Canucks may have entered the Bay Area a mere 10th in the Western Conference, but do not be fooled, Saturday night’s tilt with the San Jose Sharks was a matchup of two Western Conference powers.
Both teams entered their first matchup of the season on winning streaks, the Sharks at four games, the Canucks at three, and both starting netminders (Cory Schneider for Vancouver and Antti Niemi for San Jose) that posted shutouts in their previous games.
Schneider, however was the only goaltender to continue his hot streak as his 43 save performance backboned the Canucks to a 3-2 win over the Sharks.
San Jose through plenty of rubber at Schneider as well as a dozen or so chances that were either blocked, or sent wide. A lucky bounce, a power play goal and a seeing eye shot were enough offense for the Canucks as they slowly start to climb back up the standings.
“We played well, just didn’t capitalize on some of the grade-A chances we had” commented Sharks captain Joe Thornton. “We played well and I thought we probably deserved a better fate but that’s hockey .”
Tensions were high off the get go in this one as it was the first between the two clubs this season after Vancouver eliminated the Sharks last spring in the Western Conference final. Not even five minutes into the game, and the Sharks’ Brad Winchester and Vancouver’s Aaron Volpatti dropped the gloves for a spirited bout finished off by a take down by Winchester.
As far as chances go, each side got fairly good looks throughout the first ten minutes and arguably the more frequent of those came for the Sharks. That said, it was a hard centering attempt by former Shark Manny Malhotra that went off current Shark defenseman Douglas Murray’s skate and past Niemi giving the Canucks a 1-0 lead at 6:13.
“[Just] bounces, first goal goes off of me. Defenseman is not supposed to be standing in the blue paint but I was looking for my man.” said Murray. “He [Malhotra] throws it to the net and it goes off my toe and in. I probably shouldn’t be standing there but there’s not much you can do about it.”
Late in the period the Sharks would equalize with Andrew Murray’s first goal of the year and first as a San Jose Shark. Shortly after Murray nearly scored on a strong attack to the net all by himself, his linemate Andrew Desjardins picked up the puck behind the net and came around on his forehand before turning the opposite way on his backhand to make a nifty feed back across. Murray was there to receive the pass and shovel home into the wide open net at 16:03.
“I thought I had a little bit of separation on the d-man and lost the puck a little bit but obviously he [Desjardins] got it behind the net there and made a really nice play to me and I was able to capitalize.” recalled Andrew Murray.
Shots would wind up 11-10 in favor of Vancouver after twenty minutes as both Niemi and Schneider were quite sharp in the opening period, nothing either could do on the goals that got by them but a couple more pucks could have easily found the back of the net if it wasn’t for their solid play.
The second period would mirror the first early on as the Sharks would once again earn their fare share off chances but this time around the Canucks would score the only goals of the period.
While the Sharks would come up empty on their two power play opportunities, the Canucks and that No. 1 ranked power play converted their lone opportunity when a change up like shot from Henrik Sedin fluttered past Niemi from the left wing.
Moments later, a point shot from Andrew Alberts found its way through a screen and over the catching arm of Niemi and into the top corner to give the Canucks a two goal advantage.
San Jose would wind up out-shooting the Canucks 19-13 in that middle frame but Vancouver seemed to get better as the period went on and after the Sharks’ second power play opportunity fizzled without any strong looks, the Canucks finished the period strong with an impressive shift in the Sharks zone.
Vancouver certainly took momentum with them into the locker room as the buzzer sounded.
The Sharks would continue to battle in the final twenty minutes but a late goal by Patrick Marleau with Niemi pulled for an extra attacker at the 1:15 mark would be too little too late.
Vancouver got key blocked shots from there defense including one by Dan Hamuis off Patrick Marleau and Schneider was once again a rock between the pipes.
“You got to give kudos to their team defense and their goaltending.” added Andrew Murray. “It was top notch tonight, we couldn’t get enough past him.”
Obviously the Sharks aren’t happy with the loss but head coach Todd McLellan has certainly been more critical of his team even after some victories this season than he was on Saturday night.
“You know it’s interesting because we’re not as frustrated as coaches right now. Obviously we came to the rink to win and we’re disappointed we lost against a very good team.” said McLellan. “But it’s probably the best game we’ve played in the last five and it’s the one we happened to lose.”