Over the course of Patrick Marleau's career, he's scored often. He continued that trend today in Phoenix, as Marleau notched his 338th career goal in his 1,000th NHL game.
Amazingly, every one of those games has been spent as a member of the San Jose Sharks organization. In the salary cap era, that kind of loyalty and commitment between both the player and the organization is extremely uncommon. Marleau has rewarded the Sharks and their fan base with a solid career to date; he remains the franchise's all-time leader in scoring by a wide margin.
Marleau's goal today, his 18th of the season, was an early one. Just 3:45 into the match, Marleau used a screen placed by Joe Pavelski to score from a strange angle to put the puck far side against Coyotes netminder Ilya Bryzgalov. However, it was almost the other way around. Shane Doan of the Coyotes rung one off the corner of the pipe less than a minute into the game.
Phoenix would get on the board before the end of the first period, as Derrick Morris put one off the skates of the much maligned Kent Huskins. Huskins, who has been the focus criticism recently, just can't seem to catch a break. The puck deflected cleanly into the Sharks net, a play where Antti Niemi had no chance.
Both goaltenders were shaky to start the game, possibly due to the early start time. Still, the teams headed to the first intermission tied 1-1.
The Sharks got on the board early in the second as well, as Dany Heatley performed a beautiful head fake to put Bryzgalov out of position. As was the case with Marleau, the goal was Heatley's 18th on the season. He's now scored three goals in his last two games, an encouraging trend for a player who went goalless in his previous seven.
Heatley made the box score twice more in the period, but the first instance wasn't as positive. Heatley was the recipient of a double minor for high sticking about half way through the second, sending the Coyotes to the power play for a full four minutes in an attempt to tie the game.
The Sharks penalty killing unit was spectacular; with Antti Niemi's play especially sparkling. Niemi made save after save, stopping at least seven scoring chances during Healtey's infraction. The four minute stretched highlighted the Sharks improvement over the last two games; they played with an intensity not witnessed for much of the recent six game slide.
San Jose was able to capture the momentum of the penalty kill, dominating play for much of the remainder of the second. On a power play in the final four minutes, the Sharks new look first unit worked for an easy goal for Logan Couture. The goal, Couture's 20th on the season, put the Sharks up 3-1. Couture is the first rookie to reach the 20 goal plateau, and his two point game puts him just six points behind Carolina's Jeff Skinner for the rookie lead.
Another rookie, Oliver Ekman-Larson, would go on to score for Phoenix in the third frame. The goal would pull Phoenix to within one, but Joe Thornton would seal the deal. Thornton, busting up the ice and stealing the puck from Keith Yandle, notched his 13th (an empty-netter) in the waining seconds. Antti Niemi was also instrumental in preventing the Coyotes from tying the game, ultimately making 34 saves on the night.
All in all, the Sharks played a consistent, determined and physical game. There were a few points where the team made mistakes, but the majority of the match was played at the standard expected of this squad. The big players showed up to play, Niemi was brilliant, and the team was able to translate their hard work into a two game winning streak.
If the Sharks want to remain in the hunt for the playoffs, though, they'll have to continue this streak and do so under difficult circumstances. Twelve of the team's next sixteen games will be on the road, which includes seven straight away from February 2nd to the 15th.
San Jose will need to continue to play the way they did tonight and against St. Louis to have a chance at the playoffs, but perhaps that type of lesson will be good for them in the long run.