Sharks crush Avalanche behind Setoguchi hat-trick, Niemi shutout

Devin Setoguchi had his first career hat-trick and Antti Niemi posted his third shutout since the NHL All-Star break as the San Jose Sharks crushed the Colorado Avalanche 4-0 Saturday night. For Setoguchi, who has been on a tear since late January, the three-goal night was a welcome event for a player who has turned in twelve two-goal games in his young career. Still, it seems as if he's taking his success in stride.

"It feels good to contribute," said Setoguchi. "But at the same time you just have to keep going. One game does not make you a good hockey player."

Setoguchi has set out to prove that he's not a player who's only looking to contribute every once in a while, especially lately. He's scored twelve points in his last twelve games after scoring just twelve in his previous thirty eight.

"Seto was obviously rewarded for another good night," proclaimed Sharks coach Todd McLellan, who spoke to Setoguchi's increased commitment level over the last two to three weeks. "When you start to make a change on your own, it usually goes your way." McLellan though, like Setoguchi, wasn't ready to let Setoguchi rest on his laurels.

"Where Seto goes from here will be entirely up to him."

There were countless story lines to pursue following tonight's game, each of which is deserving of an article of their own. Perhaps no one topic merits as much coverage as the recent stretch of play by goaltender Antti Niemi, who has helped San Jose regain their spot in the top-four of the Western Conference.

Niemi made twenty five saves, including eleven in a second period where Colorado dominated play. With the comfortable three-goal lead provided to him by Setoguchi and Clowe in the first period, Niemi avoided the trap of complacency and played a crisp sixty minutes. Even before the injury to Antero Niittymaki, Niemi had earned the starters role with a .935 save percentage in 2011. There was a good deal of uncertainty and criticism surrounding the San Jose goaltending situation when Evgeni Nabokov was given his walking papers last offseason. Now, though, it appears as if Doug Wilson had another strike of genius in signing Niemi, whose recent stretch of play is some of the best ever posted in the history of San Jose Sharks netminders.

The other story line was perhaps the one we believed would shine most after tonight's tilt. However, Ian White's first game was overshadowed by the strong play of Setoguchi and Niemi. Still, White's game shouldn't be discounted in the slightest. He played a strong match and even notched his first point as a San Jose Shark, assisting on Devin Setoguchi's second goal on a power play in the first period.

"I'm still waiting on a goal," joked White after the game. "I think I've been goalless for a while, but if I keep shooting it will come."

White was, in fact, on the ice for both of the Sharks' power play goals. It's exactly what Sharks GM Doug Wilson had in mind when he brought White aboard; the Sharks power play which had been faltering previous to White's acquisition clicked all night, going two for three. In addition, White helped to spell the overworked Dan Boyle; Boyle played under his average minute count even with Marc-Edouard Vlasic out with injury.

Excitement should be tempered slightly, as the Sharks did play the struggling Avalanche tonight. Even still, this team is clicking in a way not seen at any point earlier in the season, and seems poised to continue their strong play with White now in the fold. 

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