Thursday against Pittsburgh, the San Jose Sharks got off to a horrid start and had to claw back from an early two goal defect to win in the shootout. Saturday with Nashville in town, the Sharks started well and led by two in the third but saw that lead slip away and lost in overtime.
Tonight, against the division rival Los Angeles Kings, San Jose took the lessons learned in both those games and applied them to a winning effort.
The Sharks didn't play a perfect game, but they turned in a solid sixty minutes with an emphasis on the second and third periods to put away the Kings in the first meeting between the two Pacific Division darlings. San Jose got offense from their big stars and spurts of franchise goaltending from Antti Niemi en route to a 4-2 win.
There were issues tonight, to be sure. The Sharks took an astounding number of minor penalties (six to be exact, half of which came in the third), and the penalty kill continued to be the porous mess that it has been so far in the young season. Both of Los Angeles' tallies came on the power play tonight, giving San Jose an atrocious 66% penalty kill percentage for the contest. Though Coach Todd McLellan doesn't think this recent stretch of shorthanded problems is systemic, it's hard to continue to agree with him as the Sharks continue to turn in below average play with a man in the box.
That problem has been an ongoing trend for the Sharks lately, but thankfully, it hasn't interrupted the trend of winning games. The Sharks are now 7-1-1 after starting the year 1-3, and have appeared to improve slightly game after game in most aspects. The penalty kill has not been one of those aspects, but points in the standings have piled up in spite of the problems.
Standings points have come because the Sharks have been putting the puck in the back of the net, and tonight was no exception. After spotting Los Angeles the first goal of the game, San Jose got markers from Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle and Logan Couture. Those goals come as huge reliefs for both Marleau and Boyle, who have struggled to find twine through thirteen games this year. Marleau's tally was his fourth of the year, while Boyle got just his first of the season. Joe Thornton also added an assist, bringing him back to a point per game pace in a resurgent season for the team Captain.
Last year, McLellan would continuously go on record and say that each game in today's NHL was in essence a race to three goals. The team who got there first usually won, and that sentiment has been dead on so far this year. Every game the Sharks have won has seen them score three or more goals. Of the games they have lost, they have scored three times only once. Thankfully, the goals have been there to overcome the aforementioned penalty kill issues and some sporadic play by Niemi. The offense seems to be just fine as the team looks towards the Wild on Thursday night.
It was interesting to watch a Kings team tonight who was billed as one of the NHL's best before the season started. Jonathan Quick still looked as good as advertised despite giving up four goals, but the rest of the team was stopped cold by the Sharks after they went down 2-1. They've taken almost the opposite path as San Jose, winning five of seven to start the year but going 1-4-2 in their last eight. Why? They haven't won the race to three lately, scoring two or less goals in each of their last eight games. For a team who added so much offense in the offseason, that's unacceptable. Quick is elite, but he can only win so many games alone.
Neither team is perfect, but for now, San Jose is overcoming their deficiencies in play while LA has not. That, above all else, led the Sharks to a win tonight.