In a year when Calder discussion has become a San Jose pastime, all eyes were on the Sharks and Oilers tonight with Edmonton's young guns coming into town. Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi-Svenson, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Linus Omark-- the list went on and on.
And yet, as it has seemed to be during every game this year, all eyes left transfixed on Logan Couture.
Perhaps no segment of tonight's game summarized this season more than a four minute spurt in the second period. With the Sharks in the midst of killing a five on three penalty, Couture managed to take the puck up the ice from his own zone and draw a penalty after breaking past the Edmonton defense. His effort during that span received a resounding standing ovation from the HP Pavilion crowd, the loudest they had been up until that point. Four minutes later, Couture struck again.
As Linus Omark skated through the neutral zone, a fiercely committed Couture backchecked down the center of the ice, picking Omark's pocket and springing a rush down towards Nikolai Khabibulin. Chipping the puck to Ryane Clowe, Couture headed to the net waiting to receive the pass. One lesson in patience and a nifty backhand feed later put the puck right on the tape of Couture, who roofed the shot over the outstretched pads of to open the scoring.
Clowe and Couture together again. A theme that is as familiar as breathing air, a comraderie that feels like second nature.
"He's great to play with," Clowe said about Couture. "He's one of my favorite guys I've ever played with."
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, who picked up an assist apiece on Dan Boyle's game winning goal, had one of their better performances in recent memory, showcasing a side to their game that has been missing during the month of December. Thornton in particular looked smart with the puck, setting up scoring opportunities for his teammates and threading passes through defenseman like the days of yore. He drove the play in the right direction all night. HTML was reunited for a shift here and there throughout the game in an attempt to reward all three players for their quality performances, but it remains to be seen whether or not they will get the call together against Phoenix.
Antero Niittymaki was also brilliant for San Jose, and unfortunately found himself on the wrong end of a goal that he did not deserve. His first shutout in teal still remains as elusive as Bigfoot (or Bigfoot's lesser known cousin, Gargantuan Pinky Toe). The third period saw Edmonton tilt the ice in the Sharks direction, and outside of the aforementioned Dustin Penner redirect in the final two minutes, Niittymaki effectively kept the Sharks out of trouble by preserving the two goal lead. He was directing shots to the corners, freezing pucks when needed, and letting his centerman carry the day in the circles.
San Jose was a magnificent 65% from the dot today, a good night for every centerman. Joe Pavelski was especially dangerous, notching a 74% that saw him win 14 faceoffs.
It's the third straight win for the Sharks, one that ties a season-high set on November 15th against Los Angeles. Inconsistency has been the name of the game thus far for San Jose, but an opportunity to set a season high winning streak before the holiday break would be a good way for the team to make a statement as we head into the New Year.
"You can't get three until you get two, an we have to look forward to number four," Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan said. "I think this matches our season high as far as an output goes, and we challenged our players to match that. We have one more chance here before the break to try and extend it, and we're looking forward to the challenge."
The third period aside, tonight was a strong game from San Jose from top to bottom. With both goaltenders playing better and better between the pipes, and Couture-Clowe continuing to dazzle, there's definitely a buzz in San Jose for what the New Year can bring.
And hopefully a few more surprises, like Couture's goal scoring streak and Clowe's consistency, will come along for the ride as well.