Devin Setoguchi had a pair of goals and Logan Couture and Benn Ferriero added one apiece, as San Jose extended their winning streak to four games with a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night. It was a matchup that had playoff implications coming in, with both Minnesota and San Jose having the ability to jump into the 8th spot in the Western Conference with a regulation win.
Welcome back to the playoff picture San Jose. It has been lonely without you.
The first period was a fairly tepid affair, with seven shots apiece for both clubs. Logan Couture would open up the scoring for San Jose with a beautiful wrist shot from the high circles, ripping one past Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom 11:33 into the period. Couture's season to date has been one that has placed him in the front-running for the Calder Trophy, and his game tonight was no exception. Engaged in the game from the opening whistle, Couture and his linemates (Setoguchi and Heatley) generated a multitude of scoring chances, keeping Minnesota on their heels for the majority of the tilt.
During the 2010-2011 season Couture has been the constant in a season of inconsistency. Something he touched upon following the game in the wake of a run of four straight wins for the Sharks.
"We're sticking to how we play. We're trying to be as consistent as we can be, that was our main downfall during the losing streak," Couture said. "We were good for twenty, but then we weren't good for forty. We're putting better shifts back to back now and creating more offense. It's good to see."
"When you look at the standings and we aren't in the playoffs, that's tough to see with this team. We all know in this room how good we are and how good we can be, and every guy is working on us getting back up there."
Minnesota would strike back at 13:19 in the first period during a 5 on 3 penalty kill. With Douglas Murray sent to the box for a cross checking penalty, and the Sharks attempting to furiously make a line change, San Jose was slapped with a too many men on the ice penalty. It was a mental error that would end up in the back of the net ten seconds later. The talented due of Brent Burns and Mikko Koivu played a game of hot potato at the blueline, with Koivu eventually ripping a shot that beat Niemi to tie the score at one.
Penalty trouble was an issue for the Sharks tonight-- they took six penalties in the affair, with the Wild converting on two. It was the only real black mark on an otherwise excellent sixty minutes of play, but allowed Minnesota to stay within striking distance despite being vastly outplayed.
The hammer come down in the second, as San Jose launched a franchise record 25 shots in net in a single frame. It was the second straight game in which the Sharks had put up that number of shots in a period (doing so against Vancouver), and was an excellent sign for the team. Puck movement was crisp, entries were superb-- it seemed like nothing the Wild did was able to stop the onslaught outside an admirable effort from Backstrom throughout.
Devin Setoguchi would score twice for the Sharks in the second. The first came off a nice feed from Patrick Marleau, who saucered a pass to Setoguchi breaking towards the net. Setoguchi followed his own rebound and slid the puck past Backstrom to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead they wouldn't give up.
At 6:36 Setoguchi would strike again, deflecting a Pavelski shot from the point on the power play. The goal was ruled good on the ice, and although the play went to the War Room in Toronto, his stick (which was nearly perpendicular to the crossbar) was deemed to be at a legal height.
Devin Setoguchi's return to the scoresheet was inspiring considering his struggles over the last year and a half. Bounced around the lineup like a pinball during that time frame he's been thrown together with a variety on linemates, seeking to find answers and a return to the goal-scoring potential he exhibited during the 2008-2009 season with Thornton and Marleau. And although it's too early to tell if he'll stick with Heatley and Couture on the Sharks second line (especially when one considers Ryane Clowe will be returning to the lineup soon), the returns tonight were promising. Setoguchi had his legs underneath him all night, flashing that skating stride which makes him the dynamic player he is.
"Cooch and Dany have been playing so well, it's nice to get up there [on the second line] and contribute," Setoguchi said. "I have to elevate to get up to where they're at."
The penalty kill's struggles would continue again however, as Mikki Koivu notched his second of the night off a backhand from between the circles. Antti Niemi, who didn't look as sharp as he has been in January, would likely want that one back considering it slipped just past him through the seven hole underneath his arms.
Benn Ferriero would add an insurance tally in the third to put San Jose in the lead for good, alleviating any buttocks clenching that a Brent Burns goal at 16:35 would have produced otherwise.
All in all the Sharks played an excellent game, asserting themselves in the offensive zone with a tenacity that has begun to become a common occurrence lately. It's a good sign heading into the All-Star break for a team that needs to pick up as many points as possible considering their placement in the standings.
But is it sustainable? Has this recent play been a sign of things to come or, as Todd McLellan alluded to tonight, a case where San Jose must be careful not to let history repeat itself when February begins?
"We've been inconsistent all year, obviously four games in a row is nice. But this reminds me of heading into Christmas," McLellan said. "We had our game going well, we were able to play well that last game, but then we went into the break and suddenly forgot how to play over a 48-hour period, so there is concern there. We only have three more periods left and then the guys will get their opportunity to rest and to get focused for the last ride."
Consistency will always be a concern for the Sharks until a playoff spot is convincingly locked up. It's been the story of the season thus far, and there's no telling if or when that will change.
Tonight however, San Jose has managed to claw their way back into the top eight the only way they know how.
Two points at a time.