SAN JOSE, CA - FEBRUARY 28: Kimmo Timonen #44 of the Philadelphia Flyers collides with Daniel Winnik #34 of the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion at San Jose on February 28, 2012 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
He didn't score a goal, he didn't even have a point. But new Shark Daniel Winnik came up with a monster blocked shot with the net empty and time expiring in the third, and he did it in the middle of a 1:44 long shift to end the game.
Winnik was incredible tonight, and as hard as it is to admit, it was hard to miss Jamie McGinn after seeing what Winnik brought to the squad. He handled all defensive assignments with aplomb, and even chipped in offensively here and there, looking like he'd played with Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau for weeks.
The other newcomer, T.J. Galiardi, also was noticeable in tonight's game, though he didn't have as much impact as the other former Coloradan. The speedy young forward found himself in reciept of two large open ice checks, but was able to fight his way through in a game where it appeared he was being targeted. His line, which consisted of Michal Handzus and Torrey Mitchell, was surprisingly effective however, and had moments of sustained zone time - something that Mitchell and Handzus have had trouble doing as of late.
While it was nice to see the two new Sharks fit in well, it was even sweeter to see two struggling Sharks catch a bit of a break. First off, Antti Niemi, who has been on the outs with Sharks fans of late due to poor play, turned in a sparkling 26 save performance against the league's highest scoring team. A game like that was not only crucial to help him start to regain his confidence, but it was also necessary tonight. The Sharks needed a shutout to win after only managing to muster a single goal.
That goal came in the first two minutes of the first period off the stick of Ryane Clowe, who needed a goal worse than anyone else on the Sharks. It could be said that the recent stretch of 12 games, where Clowe didn't find net once, was one of the worst spans in his career. A 2-6-1 road trip doesn't exactly do any favors to anyone, but Clowe was simply not playing up to the level that was expected of him. Maybe it was the facial injury, maybe it was the travel. But back at home, Clowe looked much more effective, and it's not just because he scored the eventual game winner.
While that 1-0 score would hold, it wasn't for lack of trying on Philadelphia's part. They put up impressive stretches of offensive zone time and threatened to tie the game at numerous points, but San Jose's commitment to pushing forwards out of the high scoring areas would pay off in the form of a shutout. It was also surprising that the Sharks were held to just the one goal as well; Ilya Bryzgalov, another maligned netminder, was also good tonight. He stopped a few good looks off the sticks of Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau and Galiardi.
There was one moment that may crop back up tomorrow: In the third period, Marc-Edouard Vlasic pushed Daniel Briere into the boards with Briere's neck absorbing much of the impact. It's hard to fault Vlasic since the play was so far from the wall (it definitely wasn't intentional), but it was definitely a shot to the back and it may get looked at by the NHL tomorrow.
The low score may not seem too flashy when you look back on it later in the season, but it was an entertaining game and exactly the remedy that the Sharks needed after struggling on the road. It was also nice to see the team win with new faces and jumbled lines; San Jose had to adjust without star Logan Couture, newcomer Dominic Moore and top-four defenseman Douglas Murray. Not to mention that they're still missing Martin Havlat (who skated today!).
Road trip aside, and at the expense of sounding like too much of an optimist, I'm excited to see what this team will look like when fully healthy. If tonight's game is any indication of what's to come, the Sharks are going to be damn hard to play against.