SAN JOSE, Calif — Just two days after barely edging out a late victory over the struggling Colorado Avalanche, the San Jose Sharks blazed out of of the gates against the vaunted Detroit Red Wings Thursday night.
Against the Avalanche the Sharks appeared lethargic and rusty to open the game but it was a different story against Detroit. Led by a tremendous opening shift by their fourth line–consisting of Ben Eager, John McCarthy and Jamal Mayers–the Sharks would dominate the first six minutes of action.
After the grind line got things going for San Jose, the top line of Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Devin Setoguchi followed suit with a dominant shift of their own. The trio pinned the Red Wings in their own zone for nearly the entire shift and put two or three quality chances on net.
Moments later, the line consisting of Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and Ryane Clowe–which was arguably the worst line here on Tuesday–opened the scoring at the 3:51 mark. Marleau would find skating room in the Detroit zone and seemed to circle the zone almost 1.5 times before dropping the puck off to Ian White at the right point. Thanks to Marleau, White had an open lane to the net and fired a shot toward the net that Red Wings netminder Joey MacDonald couldn’t handle and Heatley was there to poke home the rebound.
“Whitey made a great play to get it through,” Heatley said of his goal.
Heatley would add a second tally later in the game but it was his back-check while on the power-play that caught everybody’s attention. Only a couple minutes after getting his team on the board, the Sharks forward prevented a dynamite short-handed opportunity from developing when he tracked back an intercepted a pass that otherwise might have been a tap-in finish of a two-on-one rush.
Not known for his speed, Heatley’s hustle on the play made many think it had been Marleau coming back to defend.
“We know their forwards, especially penalty-kill like to attack,” he said. “They are a pretty good short-handed threat, so you have to be aware when those guys are out there.”
Plays like this one, more-so than his goals helped earn Heatley the first star of the game. Having a down year overall, the two-time 50 goal scorer had just 20 goals coming into the game but really moved his feet, demonstrating much more jump than usual against Detroit.
“[He] skated well, earned opportunities to score, went to the net, pretty good recipe for him,” chimed Sharks coach Todd McLellan
San Jose out shot the Red Wings 10-1 through the first seven minutes of action but then started getting into penalty trouble, giving Detroit (who had played the previous night in Anaheim) an easier alley to find their legs.
Couture got caught guilty of a hooking minor at the 10:10 mark and the red-hot Antti Niemi had to be on his toes because after only seeing one shot through the halfway mark of the first, the Red Wings peppered him with five shots over the next three-four minutes of action.
Helped out by a strong penalty kill, Niemi and the Sharks escaped the first Red Wings power-play with the lead intact. But with just over three minutes remaining, rookie defenseman Justin Braun sent the puck over the glass from his own zone. On the ensuing power-play, the Red Wings would strike to tie the score.
Mike Modano’s point shot got through to the net where none other than Tomas Holmstrom was parked in front to screen and redirect the puck through Niemi’s five-hole at the 18:18 mark of the opening period.
In the second the Sharks would waste little time getting the lead back, this time with a power-play strike of their own. With Detroit’s goal scorer in the sin bin for holding at 3:14, San Jose elected to put on a set-play off the face-off.
Thornton won the faceoff hard and across to the far right side towards an open Pavelski. Typically the play is intended for Pavelski to have an open look at net, only this time he couldn’t corral the heavy pass. As luck would have it though the puck bounced right back to him off the boards and a quick heads up pass back to the front of the net found Heatley’s stick for an easy tap in go-ahead goal.
“The play off the power-play seems to be working for us this year,” Heatley said about the power play goal. “Pavs made a great pass.”
Over the next few minutes the Sharks continued to keep the play in the Detroit zone, a nice set up in the slot almost saw Heatley get the hat-trick and a couple minutes later the Thornton-Couture-Setoguchi line put together yet another commanding shift. Even though the Wings outshot the Sharks, 12-5, there were segments of continued dominance.
Detroit wouldn’t go down easy though, as the Red Wings seized momentum through the middle portion of the second period, putting together impressive back-t0-back shifts while even strength for what seemed like the first time all game. Niemi was up to the task though, stopping all 12 of the Red Wing shots in the period.
And towards the end of the period, the Sharks turned their play back up a notch, finishing off the second with a ridiculous shift by a newly formed trio of Heatley, Couture and Clowe. The three combined for five or six quality chances while keeping the puck inside the Detroit zone for what felt like over a minute-and-a-half.
The third period continued to be more back and forth play. Detroit gave as much of a late push as they could muster but defensively San Jose was sound all night long.
With Dan Boyle missing his third straight game, the defense as a whole stepped up big, most notably Ian White and Jason Demers. Of Detroit’s 27 shots, only a handful were of the above average difficulty level for Niemi, as the Sharks defense held strong, most notably along the boards. Led by White, Demers, and the always physically intimidating Douglas Murray, the physicality from the Sharks’ defense limited Detroit’s ability to cycle down low–a staple of their game which has allowed them to win multiple Stanley Cups.
Frustrated all night long by the Sharks, Detroit kept the pressure up in the second half of the period until Marleau gave the Sharks a two-goal cushion. After gaining control of the puck in his own zone, Thornton cleared the puck off the boards and down the ice where Marleau sped after it and forced MacDonald to come out of his net to try and clear it away. Both MacDonald and Marleau arrived at the puck nearly instantaneously by the right face-off dot and the netminder’s clearing attempt ricocheted of Marleau’s stick and into a wide open net at 15:48.
Detroit pulled MacDonald for the extra with over a minute to go but to no avail as the Sharks increased their win streak to eight and their hot streak to 17-2-1 over their past 20 games after the 3-1 victory.
“They’re all satisfying right now,” McLellan said about the victory, “you can’t take anything away from any of the wins.”