For the first time in what seems like a decade, the Sharks faced a statement game (as the underdog) Monday night in San Jose.
Over recent years, most NHL clubs would use their games against the Sharks as benchmarks to where they stand in the league. However, as the Sharks entered play on Monday they were just 8-5-2 through their first 15 games, good enough for third place in the Pacific division and 10th in the Western Conference.
While teams still respect the Sharks as a perennial playoff contender, there has been some significant chinks in the teal armor thus far this season. That said, Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings–which wrapped up a five-game home-stand–was a legitimate benchmark game for the Sharks.
The Kings, winners of six in a row coming in the game, are first in the Pacific division and first in the Western Conference. At 12-3-0 prior to facing the Sharks, it was clear before puck drop that the Kings were the squad being measured up and not the other way around.
And in their first statement game as a team significantly behind in the standings, the Sharks didn’t disappoint. All four lines chipped in goals as San Jose finished off their home-stand in impressive fashion by beating the Kings, 6-3.
All in all, 13 Sharks found themselves on the score-sheet and the top two lines each produced two goals in what was by far the most impressive performance of the season. Arguably the most significant factoid of San Jose’s convincing win over the Kings was that all-star center and captain Joe Thornton wasn’t amongst the 13 who picked up a point.
Perhaps not a popular occurrence for fantasy owners, but the fact San Jose was able to spread out the scoring against one of top teams in all of the NHL was absolutely critical.
Considering the Sharks had been snake-bit early on in the home-stand against the Ducks and Islanders, getting improved secondary scoring would be crucial to taking down a higher quality opponent like the Kings. Moreover, with top-pair defenseman Douglas Murray out for the first time all season with a lower-body injury, it was all the more important for the Sharks to crank up the offense.
With San Jose’s defense short-handed, it was highly likely that the offense would have to come up big and they did exactly that. Six goals in all matched San Jose’s highest out-put of the season (previously reached just once previously back against Edmonton on Oct. 23) and the top two lines each scored even strength for the first time all season.
Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, the newly put together second line, picked up all three points on Clowe’s first period goal that tied the score at one a piece on Monday night and Pavelski added a goal on the power-play in the third. Dating back to their first game as a line (Thursday against the Islanders), the trio has now combined for 14 points in three games. Torrey Mitchell, Scott Nichol, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley picked up the other four goals, as six different skaters lit the lamp against the division leaders. Marleau’s tally also came on the power-play which went 2-for-3 on the night and for the first time in a half dozen games did not allow a odd man rush against.
With San Jose getting offense both five on five and on the power-play, Sharks netminder Antero Niittymaki was finally given some breathing room. The Sharks’ No. 1 netminder turned away 32 of 35 shots in the victory but in his previous two starts had been given just three goals of support. The same offensive support he received against Anaheim and New York simply wouldn’t have been enough to beat the high-powered Kings.
But when it came down to the biggest test of the season for the Sharks, the offense came through the way they needed to, capping off the home-stand with nine out of a possible 10 points.
Now they just have to find a way to score on the road…