The San Jose Sharks opened up the 2011-12 campaign looking as if they were literally lit on fire. Saturday night in San Jose marked the opener for both the Sharks and the Phoenix Coyotes, but right from the get-go it was all Sharks.
Up and down the revamped San Jose lineup, players were forcing the Coyotes to stay pinned in their own zone throughout the opening period. Even without new star forward Martin Havlat in the lineup, the Sharks wasted no time making the opening game look easy. After another Shark newcomer in Michal Handzus drew the game’s first penalty at 3:47, that brilliant San Jose power-play went to work quickly — scoring just 14 seconds into the man advantage. The scoring play started off with yet another first-year Shark in defenseman Brent Burns poking a loose puck down into the Coyotes corner, where Patrick Marleau corralled it and established a 2-on-1 with Pavelski who was waiting wide open at the far post. Marleau split the legs of Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris with a beautiful pass and Pavelski just tapped it home to open the scoring.
Some pundits out there have pegged Pavelski to score 40 goals this season on the Sharks top line –I’m not sure about that, but two goals on opening night (he would add another later on) is quite the start in that direction.
San Jose would once again go on the power play a few minutes after Pavelski’s tally on yet another call drawn by Handzus. The Sharks would fail to capitalize this time around and they nearly gave up the lead when two Coyotes raced Dan Boyle and Brent Burns down the other end. A redirected pass right in front of the crease nearly tied the game but Sharks netminder Thomas Greiss (who was filling in for the injured Antti Niemi) was there to make his first stop of the season—certainly one of the above average difficulty level.
Shortly after the second power play ended, Handzus and that third line got things going again. Torrey Mitchell drove the zone and Handzus found a puck behind the net, where he wrapped it around the far post on his forehand. A fortuitous bounce off a sick looked to aid the puck into the back of the net. The goal may have made it merely 2-0, but with the vibe in the arena, one could tell pretty early that it was going to be a long night for Coyotes netminder Mike Smith.
The writing was on the wall. This opener belonged to San Jose and it did –all night long. Even some of the Sharks misses were spectacular, including a back and forth between Pavelski and Marleau. The two played tic-tac-toe at one point during the first period right in front of Coyotes net but just couldn’t convert what would have been a pretty goal.
The Sharks were without a doubt rolling all over the inferior Phoenix club, as all four San Jose lines ended up scoring in a game where no one Shark could be singled out for being even sub-par.
Phoenix, to their credit, did come out with a better gameplan after the first intermission, or so it appeared. They led in shots 6-4 through the first few minutes of action. Greiss, however, was up to the task for San Jose as he finally got used to some consistent rubber in his direction.
And unfortunately for Phoenix, not only could they not convert on their early surge, but they once again found themselves shorthanded, and the Sharks would once again capitalize.
A neat spin-o-rama type backhand pass from Logan Couture down low found Ryane Clowe’s forehand on the opposite hash mark, Clowe stick-handled into the center of the zone and roofed a backhander just under the crossbar on Smith’s stickside at 7:33.
Merely a minute after the Clowe tally, Sharks rookie fourth line center and in this writer’s opinion, a soon to be fan favorite, Andrew Desjardins got on the scoresheet. Desjardins created a steal in the neutral zone, which opened up a clear breakaway and the “veteran rookie” Desjardins skated in and sniped Smith top corner glove side.
The Coyotes would get on the board on the power play when who else but Shane Doan rifled home a one-timer top corner glove side that had no chance to be stopped. At this midpoint of the game, maybe the Coyotes were hopeful of making a game out of it.
The good news for the Sharks. however, was that Phoenix couldn’t stay out of the box. San Jose would go back on the power play with Pavelski notching his second of the game. Inside the Phoenix zone, Marleau passed back to the point to Boyle who unleashed a slap shot towards net. Pavelski was Mr. Johnny on the spot, putting a nice redirect on the puck as it skipped past Smith into the pack of the cage to restore the Sharks’ four goal cushion.
With less than two minutes remaining in the second period, Desjardins would get his second goal of the game. Seconds after being crosschecked into the boards, the rookie picked up the puck and drove towards the net from the corner. His shot came from behind the goal-line and banked in off the pads of Smith to make it a 6-1 score.
Let’s just say there has never been a brighter smile during postgame interviews than the one that was on the face of Desjardins after the game.
“It’s exciting, a fun game” chimed Desjardins, who made the final cut at training camp for the first time in the NHL just a few days ago.
Phoenix would add two more goals on power-play tallies in the third period including Doan’s second of the night on a 5-on-3 which perhaps may make Sharks fans concerned over the penalty kill. All three Phoenix goals were on the man advantage but two came with the game wrapped up and the only other one came just moments after a 5-on-3 became a 5-on-4.
If anything the penalty kill did look improved with Handzus leading the way, more specifically staying out of the box was the only issue to nitpick at in San Jose’s big opening night win.
The 6-3 final actually makes the game sound closer than it was. Phoenix was never in the game.
Rookie Tommy Wingels earned his first career point in his first Sharks home game and played strong defensively.
“Stay-at-home” defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic didn’t quite get on the scoresheet, but was all around the puck in the offensive zone in his first game alongside his new “offensive defenseman” partner in Brent Burns.
It may just be one game, but awfully scary to think about how the Sharks’ No. 1 power-play unit features five Olympians from the 2010 games (four Canadians in Marleau, Thornton, Boyle and Burns, and one American in Pavelski). Even scarier to realize the Sharks scored three times on the power play, and Thornton didn’t even record a single point in the 6-3 victory.
Newcomers Burns and Handzus made the obvious contributions, but veterans in forward Andrew Murray and defenseman Colin White were more than adequate in their limited roles.