SAN JOSE- After a rather lengthy four days off between games, the San Jose Sharks showed a decent amount of rust early on against the rival Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night. But that rust would certainly wear off.
Despite falling behind 1-0 in a sluggish first period and being out-shot 42-28 on the night, five unanswered goals, including three quick ones in the second period, powered the Sharks to a convincing 5-2 victory.
The Sharks did initially get in a couple strong shifts right off the opening faceoff but the Red Wings would control the play for the majority of the opening stanza. And with Sharks defenseman Jason Demers in the box for holding, the Red Wings would convert on the man-advantage. Nicklas Kronwall would get credit for the tally as his point shot took a wild bounce up and over Sharks netminder Antti Niemi and over the goal-line at 17:23.
As for Demers, the first period penalty was not the greatest time for the defenseman to commit an infraction. While still considered and up an coming defenseman, Demers has been a healthy scratch for eight games this season including five straight prior to Thursday.
“Tough assignment for Jason, he hasn’t played much lately. He goes in against a team like Detroit [who is a] puck possession team and he handled it very well” commented Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. “Our team was a little rusty, so he fit into that description a little bit but I thought as the game went on he felt more comfortable and looked more confident on the ice.”
Demers would be called for yet another infraction a couple minutes later but this time around his squad would find the back of the net with him in the penalty box.
A clear from Marc-Edouard Vlasic into the Detroit zone looked as if it might stay outside of the trapezoid area where Red Wings netminder Jimmy Howard can’t legally touch it. Joe Thornton was on the forecheck and while the puck eventually entered the trapezoid, Howard elected to remain in his crease. Thornton reached the puck first, skated around the net, and found an open Pavelski in the slot as all three red wings players were mesmerized by the puck. Pavelski simply wired a shot to his favorite spot, top corner glove side.
“It kind of died before [it got to] Howard, so he kind of couldn’t come out and Pav was just open right there on the hash marks.” described Thornton. “Lucky break there. We didn’t play well until probably that point, we got some momentum from that [goal], had a strong second period and the game was over.”
Pavelski’s goal came with just 12 seconds remaining, and that late goal momentum certainly did carry through into the second period.
Thanks in large part to a couple of quality saves from Niemi, the sharks were able to kill off the remaining portion of Demers’ penalty and from there on out the period was all San Jose.
The Sharks would score three times in the period and could have easily had one or two more. Early on Thornton found Couture streaking to the net but the puck slipped off Couture’s stick as he tried to go to the backhand deke on Howard.
Sharks fans wouldn’t have to fret much longer about the outcome of this contest however as Thornton would put them ahead for good midway through the frame. With just over ten minutes to go, an ill-timed pinch by Sharks defenseman Brent Burns created an odd man rush for Detroit. Henrik Zetterberg was the late man in on the rush for Detroit but Thornton was on his horse and stole the puck away with a brilliant back-checking effort. The steal turned into an odd man rush the other way. Thornton would receive a cross ice feed from Couture on his forehand and a quick wrister beat the sprawling Howard.
“Very good back check, I’m glad that you noticed that. A lot of people would just notice him scoring at the other end” added McLellan on Thornton’s effort . “When you make that type of commitment coming back sometimes you get rewarded at the other end. It was something we can use as a teaching tool now, back pressure leads to good offense.”
Less than three minutes after Thornton’s goal, a great shift by the Sharks’ fourth line of Andrew Murray, Andrew Desjardins and Brad Winchester ended up with a dynamite chance for Desjardins. While Desjardins’ wrist shot would be stopped the rebound kicked free to Vlasic who was able to wrap the puck around the opposite side past Howard for his second goal of the season.
Vlasic—who would wind up with a career high four points on the night, (one goal and three assists), — was asked if he remembered the last time he scored on a wrap-around. The defenseman chuckled and said “I don’t know, probably junior.”
Later in the second the Sharks would come up empty on their lone power play opportunity of the night but with just under two minutes remaining, a hard wrist shot off the rush from Jamie McGinn set up a goal by Torrey Mitchell. McGinn’s wrist shot would sneak through Howard and nearly into the net. Vlasic however was once again following up the play and centered the puck from the corner boards back to the net where Mitchell buried a shot top corner.
Mitchell’s goal seemed to put a damper on Detroit’s chances for a comeback. “Another timely goal again.” responded Mitchell on his tally. “Like I said [before] two goals you still feel like your in it and when you’re down by three a little doubt creeps in.”
In the third period, San Jose’s fourth line would get on the score-sheet with Brad Winchester picked up his first goal as a Shark and with an assist Andrew Murray got his first point as a Shark.
“It was nice to get rewarded” said Winchester, who along with Murray and Andrew Desjardins has played on the one line combination which McLellan has left virtually untouched.
“They were very good. It’s the best compliment that I can give them. Very good defensively, good through the neutral zone, probably our best forechecking line.” added McLellan on his fourth line. “They created a number of opportunities in the offensive zone. They buried themselves around the blue paint, scored some goals, it’s nice to see for a group that’s worked pretty hard lately.”
Detroit would add a second power-play goal in the last half of the third period with Dany Cleary popping home his third of the year but it was too little too late for the Wings because as Thornton said, the game was over after the second period.
After getting the previous game off against Phoenix, Sharks netminder Antti Niemi finished Thursday’s contest with a .952 save percentage, making 40 saves on those 42 shots. “He played well, he played really well” commented Thornton on Niemi.
It was San Jose’s fifth straight regular season victory over Detroit combined with two straight playoff series victories. Safe to say San Jose has had Detroit’s number as of late.