Sharks Hold Off Capitals

Playing their first home game in over two weeks, the San Jose Sharks were in danger of falling victim to a “trap” game on Thursday night. For whatever reason, the Sharks have been known to stumble during the first game back after an extended road trip. Over the years, it is only too common to hear Sharks fans remarking “well, it’s the first game back after an extended trip, we’ll see how they do.”

This time around, the Sharks were focused from the opening puck drop. On the opening shift, defenseman Douglas Murray got physical with Washington star Alexander Ovechkin. While the Russian appeared to initiate the extra physical play with his Swedish opponent, the up-tempo pace probably helped the Sharks more than it did the Capitals.

Washington had played the previous night, winning a 7-6 barn burner over the Anaheim Ducks and the Sharks–as alluded to earlier–were playing their first home game since Feb. 1. The Sharks had just one day off from the final game of that trip before Thursday’s contest and one could have foreseen a situation where the Capitals would lure San Jose asleep.

However, with Ovechkin and Murray’s one-on-one showdown taking center stage early on, that wouldn’t be the case. Both teams came out skating and hitting in the first period and both goaltenders had to be on their toes. Antti Niemi was brilliant again for the Sharks, stopping 23 of 25 shots on the evening, including several of the “bail out” variety in the first period.

Despite moving their feet offensively and showing a fair amount of jump, San Jose had problems early on getting pucks out of their own zone and Niemi had to be on his game early on.

As the opening frame moved forward, the Murray and Ovechkin matchup would again come into play as the San Jose defenseman drew a penalty on Ovechkin–behind the Capitals net. The not necessarily fairly labeled “stay at home” defenseman in Murray had carried the puck into the zone himself before taking a rough “interference” penalty that could just have easily been called charging or roughing.

Despite finishing the previous road trip 5-2, the Sharks’ power-play had been struggling of late and with Ovechkin in the box, the struggling power-play would once again come up empty.

Fortunately for the Sharks, they would still be able to get on the board first–on the Capitals power-play–late in the opening stanza. Just nine seconds after Ben Eager was called for tripping Ovechkin, the Capitals would fumble the puck after their face-off win in the Sharks zone. Patrick Marleau then stole the puck away and flew down the left wing before passing across to Joe Pavelski just inside the Washington blue-line. “The Big Pavelski” proceeded to rip a shot from just inside the top of the right circle and the wrister beat Michal Neuvirth on the glove-side, top corner.

The lead would be short lived however as Ovechkin got that goal right back, scoring an equalizer just a mere 22 seconds after Pavelski’s short-handed goal had opened the scoring. After receiving a pass from rookie defenseman John Carlson, Ovechkin quickly skated into a nice shooting position right in the middle of the offensive zone and uncorked a wicked wrister that beat Niemi to the far-side.

Both teams would be held scoreless in the second but what was noticeable on the Sharks’ end was that they were playing without Marc-Edouard Vlasic who had suffered an injury early in that first period. Vlasic, San Jose’s fifth year defenseman, usually plays top-four minutes but played just two shifts for a total of 1:03 in ice time in the first period. “Pickles” did not return and the onus would be put on Dan Boyle and surprisingly Jason Demers to eat up the bulk of the ice time.

Now it is no surprise that Boyle, San Jose’s No. 1 defenseman would pick up extra minutes. Not only does he lead all NHL players in average ice time (26:49), but he is by far their most effective offensive threat on the blue-line. Demers, on the other hand, is often on San Jose’s “third” defense pairing and therefore often considered still to be a fifth or sixth defenseman on the depth chart.

In just his second year in the league, Demers averages 19:17 in ice which is less than that of Vlasic (20:42) and Murray (19:53). So when Boyle finishes the night with nearly 30 full minutes of ice time (29:54 to be exact), nobody blinks an eye. However, when Demers finishes with 28:12 in ice time, that is bound to turn some heads.

Murray finished at 23:50, nearly four minutes above average, but both Niclas Wallin and Kent Huskins only played about two minutes more of their average. Meanwhile Demers played almost nine minutes above his average?

The Sharks only had two power-play opportunities and Demers’ rarely sees time on the No. 1 unit anyway, so it was simply a matter of allocating the most of Vlasic’s minutes to Demers, who didn’t seem any worse for the wear. Perhaps as the season moves along, we will see more of Demers taking the load off Boyle in order to keep their most valuable asset fresh for the post-season. If Thursday night is any indication, Demers seems up to the task.

Meanwhile, the Sharks’ offense would get just enough goals past Neuvirth to reward their defenseman for the extra effort they had to put in with Vlasic’s absence.

Ryane Clowe banged home a juicy rebound on his backhand about five minutes into the third and then Dany Heatley would get credit for a power-play goal midway through the final frame.

The power-play, which had been struggling so mightily, came through at an ideal time as the fourth line of Eager, Scott Nichol and Jamal Mayers had drawn the penalty which put the Sharks on the man advantage.

San Jose only needed 22 seconds before Boyle’s wrist shot from the center of the blue-line was tipped by not one, not two but all three Sharks forwards. Pavelski got the original deflection before Heatley and Joe Thornton got their sticks on it. Heatley would get the goal, being the last to touch the puck for his 20th of the year and his first tally in seven games.

By finally striking on the power-play (were on a 0-12 skid prior to the goal) and cashing in the hard work of the their “grind” line, the Sharks provided a two-goal cushion to which they would need in order to come out with the win.

With just under two minutes remaining, Nicklas Backstrom would fire a quick wrister through a screen and past Niemi to pull Washington back within a goal. The Sharks, who have had more than their fair share of third period collapses this season could have let this one slip away but thanks in large part to late takeaway by Thornton, the Capitals wouldn’t get much in the way of scoring chances in the final 1:55.

Niemi stopped a hard wrist shot from Ovechkin off the rush, but outside of that, the Sharks did an excellent job keeping the high powered Capitals offense on the perimeter after Backstrom’s goal.

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12 Responses to “Sharks Hold Off Capitals”

  1. scooter
    February 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

    Mr. Bensch,

    Another good write-up. Excellent observations on Demers. Do you make it to The Tank or are you a Cable/Satellite kind of guy?

  2. Andrew Bensch
    February 18, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    I make it to the tank when I can and when there is room in the press box for lesser known bloggers like myself.

    Whenever I do a recap beginning with “San Jose” in bold and in caps, thats when i have made it down to the tank. And those always have player/coach post game quotations.

    I’m requesting a spot in the pb for tomorrow’s game, but if not I am going be in the San Jose area at my familys home (I live and go to school in the SF area) and they have tivo, so ill be able to add some quotes either way.

    But not all the interviews are aired and i won’t get to ask my own questions :/

  3. Frank
    February 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    Hey,good job covering sharks. When they start tuff it’s all ways a
    Good out come for them!! Keep up the good blog!!!

  4. scooter
    February 18, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    Mr.Bensch,

    Have you any insight on Demers being traded for Eric Brewer? Or any info on Doug Wilson upgrading the D via trades.

    I know Joslin was just moved to CAR, and Ian White for a 2nd rounder, but we have to clear cap space and we will need to give some decent talent to get Brewer.

  5. Andrew Bensch
    February 18, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    Frank- thanks a lot for the read and comment!

    Scooter- Demers is not going to stockton, hes just there for cap space like u have indicated. I havent heard of him moving anywhere but the according to DP, the sharks want to get Braun called up and on the NHL ice for more experience down the stretch.

    That would mean 8 defenseman all deserving ice time, and so something has to give. I feel these moves are a precursor to something big, i mean BLOCKBUSTER.

    Im thinking Vlasic, Demers and a draft choice get sent to Nashville for Shea Weber. Just a thought

    Boyle-Murray
    Weber-White
    Huskins-Braun/Wallin

  6. scooter
    February 19, 2011 at 9:37 am #

    Mr.Bensch,

    I’d love to have Weber, and I know you were just using him as an example.

    Is there anything more realistic that you feel might be in the works?

    Hypothetically, of course!

  7. Andrew Bensch
    February 19, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    Not that I can think of, unless DW isn’t satisfied with his top goal scorers that he wants add even more up front depth. I could see something along the lines of a Marc-Edouard Vlasic and a Devin Setoguchi packaged for somebody like an Ales Hemsky/Dustin Penner from the Oilers or perhaps a Brad Boyes back from St. Louis. Those cap numbers would seem to work out pretty evenly.

    I just don’t understand adding a defenseman in White but not giving a defenseman away somehow. it doesn’t add up.

  8. scooter
    February 19, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    I agree. So we wait to find out. I don’t think we need more scoring, I think we need D upgrades and since we have extra D, I would expect Doug to trade Huskins + Mitchell. We need a big crease presence to help Nemo.

    And then there’s the goalie situation.

    Sateri is my guess. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe he has to go through the waiver wire.

  9. Andrew Bensch
    February 19, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

    I would have to check that out on Sateri. I heard Greiss would have to clear waivers, but Sateri’s situation might be different.

    As for Huskins + Mitchell, I don’t know what that would get you in return.

    I’ll be at the game tonight, I’ll see if I can get some info on what people think is going to happen in regards to the current logjam of D.

  10. scooter
    February 19, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

    I’ll look forward to what you can dig up on the D situation.

    I see where Capgeek has us over the cap by 3 or 400K. So apparently someone has to go.

    Enjoy the game, I hope you get to interview Ian White to find out who’s couch he’s crashing on!

  11. Andrew Bensch
    February 20, 2011 at 1:59 am #

    didnt think and nobody thought to ask where hes crashing, look for my game piece tomorrow morning. I can get it posted tonight but my east coast editors are asleep :( and it goes to them b4 hitting publication obviously.

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