With Dallas Stars back to being one of the better teams in the NHL, there was an expectation of a great game in San Jose tonight, as they faced off against the Sharks. Both teams delivered in almost every way, except how the game actually ended. After three periods and an overtime of exciting hockey, the Stars earned the two points in the skills competition. Dallas preserved their lead in the Pacific Division, as they beat the San Jose with a final score of 3:2.
In a way, it was logical that the game went into overtime. Throughout the match, both Dallas and San Jose were trading scoring chances (and goals) one after another. Both goaltenders played a great game. The offenses of both teams had no trouble passing the neutral zone. At the same time, defenses for both teams appeared focused and composed.
But that's the way the NHL is today - some games have to be decided in the skills competition. Today it was the turn of the Sharks' opponents to take the extra point.
After the jump, a few thoughts about tonight's game.
- One thing that impressed me the most was how composed the Stars looked throughout the game. This is the first time since 2007/8 season that they look like a team. Good defensive coverage, great ability to move the puck down the ice, and superb ability with the puck within a few feet of Niemi. Any time the Stars had the puck in the Sharks zone, it didn't sit for too long with any single player and quickly made it to the net through a series of quick short passes. Their transition game was also something I forgot they knew how to do. No wonder there was no room in that system for the aging Mike Modano.
- Some teams have certain players that make their games worth watching. On the Stars in the past few seasons, at least for me, it's been Brad Richards. One of the best playmakers in the game, he also has one of the best hands, and much like for Pavel Datsyuk, these skills make him is a hard player to read. It's hard to believe that just weeks ago there were rumors that the Starts were thinking of trading him. What a shootout goal that was from him, as he approached Niemi, looking straight at him while moving the puck from side to side. I wondered if he secretly grew up in Russia somewhere - not a lot of Canadian players handle the puck the way Richards can.
- Steve Ott was back to his usual tricks - chirping and hooking and being the Ott we remember. At one point in the game, he was laying on the ice after a faceoff, holding unto Joe Thornton's skate and not letting go. Moments later he tripped Derek Joslin, and earned a double minor penalty that led to Sharks' first and only power play of the night. CSN showed a stat that with 88 penalty minutes against the Sharks, he's third among all the active players in that category. As Chrissampang noted on Twitter, it's strange that the fans at HP Pavilion boo Brian Campbell, but don't boo Ott. Isn't it about time we start booing someone on the Starts roster?
- The Pacific Division teams outside of the two that met in San Jose can't be too happy with the 3-point night tonight, as the game went into overtime. With every point on the line this season in the division (and in the West in general), overtimes are making it harder for teams to catch up.
- Here was another game when the refs forgot their whistles at home. Sharks did not get a power play until there were five minutes left in the game (and it had to be Ott making a fool of himself yet again). Dallas only had three PP opportunities (but they did score on one of them). What a change from the start of the season. Remember how there were 12 penalties in Sharks' second game of the season, and that was pretty typical of that time?
- Todd McLellan continues to shuffle the lines as game progresses. He loves doing that at home against the teams he knows well. He has the last change, and he can pick the matchups. Another reason has to be trying to get Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski going. The game started with Marleau being back with Thornton and Heatley, but after the first period, the line combinations were changing as quickly as Nabokov's geographical location today. Hard to say it was working for Pavelski - as he ended the night with just one shot on goal and no points. But Marleau had a strong outing with an assist and the team high five shots on net.
- Here is another reason why NHL should start embedding the chips into the pucks. The first shootout attempt by Logan Couture looked like it might have gone in, as it slid into the pads of retracting Andrew Raycroft. However, none of the video replays had conclusive evidence that it went in, and it was ruled "no goal."
- Ryane Clowe continued his hot streak of great games, and recorded another goal tonight. As usual, he was also one of the players in a shootout lineup. Clowe decided to deviate from the usual forehand-to-backhand move in a shootout that seemed to work every time, and paid the price, as Raycroft stayed with the puck, and made a game winning save on a rather poor shot. Perhaps next time Ryane will go back to what always worked in the past. Or not.
- With game so close and physical (50 hits tonight, with Sharks delivering 34 of them), the home crowd was playoffs loud. That's how it should be for these Stars-Sharks games. The rivalry is back on.