A deadly Sharks power play helped guide the Sharks to their first win of the 2010-2011 season earlier today, with rookie Logan Couture, Torrey Mitchell, and newly minted Captain Joe Thornton all contributing on the scoresheet.
The Sharks productive powerplay provided momentum for the Sharks all day long, capitalizing twice throughout the tilt and generating many more opportunities. Puck movement was crisp, and the "Globetrotters syndrome" of 2009-2010 was nowhere to be seen. Players were skating off the puck and driving hard to the net, forcing the Columbus penalty killers to be quite active in their own zone. Jason Demers, Dan Boyle, and Douglas Murray led the Sharks blueliners with the most TOI in this situation, with Joe Pavelski typically playing the point on the majority of shifts. It's a position he has been asked to play in seasons past, and one he clearly looked comfortable in throughout the game.
After Steve Mason gave up two soft goals to let the Sharks take a 2-0 lead midway through the first period, the 22 year old netminder buckled down and stymied many San Jose chances from all portions of the ice. This allowed the Blue Jackets to fight back early, and in a span of fifteen seconds, notch two goals to tie the game before the first twenty minutes were complete.
The second and third periods saw some excellent goaltending from both respective goalies, with Antti Niemi and Mason both making some excellent saves at key junctures of the game. Niemi was particularly brilliant throughout this time frame, sliding from post to post and taking away the lower portion of the net. His rebound control was spotty here and there-- good at times, questionable at others. This will obviously be a note to look forward as the season progresses along, but for the most part the defense was able to limit second chance opportunities through deft stickwork and body positioning.
However, the defense did struggle down low for parts of the game-- there was too much east-west passing allowed below the circles, which forced Niemi to be very active in getting across his crease to make saves. They controlled the rush fairly well, pushing players to the outside and taking away the middle of the ice, but once Columbus gained control of the puck in the zone, communication seemingly eroded. Chalk it up to the first game of the season, but that must definitely improve throughout the year before the Sharks match up against a higher powered offensive team.
The game was fairly sloppy-- penalties were a dime a dozen throughout the tilt, with an astounding 20:42 of the game being played with one team having a man advantage. This is something that will likely be corrected as the NHL season wears along, and with the Sharks penalty kill picking up where they left off last year (6/7 on the night), the hope is that these mistakes will be rectified.
Logan Couture looked very good skating between Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley today, and saw a lot of power play time (4:24) with various partners. That line seemed to be the best of the night in terms of opportunities generated, with all three other lines also pumping shots on net as well. Ryane Clowe was his usual self on the cycle, and although Thornton failed to pick up an assist, he set up a couple of players with brilliant opportunities in tight. A nice backhand touch pass to Patrick Marleau above the crease was stopped by Mason, and a forehand feed to Dany Heatley jammed the sniper as he put it just wide. Devin Setoguchi and Jamie McGinn had below average games, and will be counted on to be more effective when playing with Thornton if they hope to stay on his line when the team returns to San Jose.
All in all, a solid game for San Jose. Two more points on the table tomorrow as they attempt to complete the sweep in Stockholm. All indicators point to Antero Niittymaki getting the start in the tail end of a back to back on Saturday, as the organization has expressed their desire to keep goaltending starts low and work both netminders in a competitive tandem.
It's great to have hockey back in business.