SAN JOSE- For most NHL teams, the first home game after a long road trip has a tendency to be, for lack of a better word, uneven. Thursday night’s tilt between the Sharks and Penguins would mark San Jose’s first game in the Bay Area in over two weeks. Early on, team teal certainly did not buck the trend.
Goaltender Antti Niemi lost his stick on the opening shift and moments later a wrist shot from Pittsburgh defenseman Deryk Engelland whizzed past him and into the cage. Less than two minutes later an Evgeni Malkin shot-pass would carom off the skate of Brent Burns and Niemi’s night would be over.
Sharks head coach Todd McLellan quickly inserted Thomas Greiss, who kept the Sharks in the game with a handful of difficult stops early on.
Realistically, if it weren’t for Greiss’ first period efforts, San Jose could have been down and out, but fortunately for them they were merely down after twenty minutes.
For the period the Penguins outshot sharks 15-4 and McLellan was forced to juggle the lines to try and find a spark.
“Coming off a long road trip, the first one is always the toughest” commented Sharks captain Joe Thornton who found himself playing with Logan Couture on his left side most of the game instead of the customary Patrick Marleau.
The Sharks were simply not clicking from the onset of this one and the Penguins were skating circles around them.
Star forward Evgeni Malkin—who got credit for that second Pittsburgh goal— was all over the ice in the opening stanza creating a dominant cycle game with line-mates James Neal and Steve Sullivan.
San Jose would be outplayed for the entirety of the first period but two separate scraps—one at the end of the first between Brad Winchester and Craig Adams, and one at the beginning of the second between Ryane Clowe and Engelland appeared to give the Sharks some life.
Soon after Clowe’s bout, Patrick Marleau would cut the Penguins lead in half. A nice give-and-go with Martin Havlat at the Pittsburgh blue line sprung Marleau, who split the defense and muscled a shot over Marc-Andre Fleury.
Yet any momentum built up from the Marleau goal faded mid-way through the period when Malkin re-stored Pittsburgh’s two goal lead. A fortuitous bounce off the rebound of his own shot caromed off Malkin’s skate and past Greiss. It was one of those bounces that made it feel like it just wasn’t San Jose’s night.
But despite the unlucky bounce, the Sharks did put forth a much stronger middle frame as they turned the tables on the shot clock, out-shooting the Penguins 17-6 in the second.
That momentum would carry over into the third period where goals by Ryane Clowe on a nifty backhand and Jamie McGinn would tie the score at three a piece.
Neither side would score in the overtime session and Clowe would score the lone goal in the shootout.
“We were definitely flat but you find a way to win” chimed the gritty power forward. “It definitely wasn’t pretty though”.
McLellan was a bit more direct. “We had no business winning that game after the first period” the coach said.
Asked specifically about positives to take away from the contest, McLellan replied simply “We won the game.”