With all the talk about San Jose's secondary scoring being an issue as of late, they sure seem to be headed in the right direction.
Torrey Mitchell and Andrew Desjardins potted goals for San Jose in their 5-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, giving the Sharks five goals in their last three games from their bottom six forward group. The fourth line of Tommy Wingels, Andrew Desjardins, and Daniel Winnik had a very good night by eye, with all three players contributing in both ends of the ice and causing havoc for the Avalanche in their own end.
Joe Pavelski had a pair of tallies, and Ryane Clowe tallied an empty netter with 3:37 left in the game after Avalanche Head Coach Joe Sacco (correctly) pulled his goalie trailing by three late, to round out the scoring for the Sharks.
We haven't raved about Winnik's offensive skills as much as we probably should have throughout the course of this season, especially since the bulk of his contributions on the ice come from the defensive zone. With that qualifier out of the way, I think it's fair to state that he is one of the better San Jose forwards at controlling the puck along the boards. On a team filled with the likes of Joe Thornton and Ryane Clowe it's easy to get lost in the fold, but Winnik's ability to control the play and retain puck possession while getting hacked and slashed is a huge plus to San Jose's bottom six when it comes to puck possession.
Since we're focusing on the bottom six, another player that stood out by eye but looked like he may have gotten buried in the chances department was Dominic Moore. I thought he was explosive with and without the puck, and while the third line didn't have the kind of night I think they would have liked as a whole, he was quite good at creating space with his skating ability.
Antti Niemi had quite the game, specifically late in the first period when the Avalanche were still in reach. As my FTF cohort Matt Taylor said to me as we were watching the game, Colorado is one of those teams that can get buried in their own end for stretches, ride Varlamov out of that pressure, and come out to string together a multitude of scoring chances. That ability was on full display tonight when the Avalanche, after getting out of the gates slow, brought it on in the last half of the first period and tested Niemi with numerous opportunities.
Full marks to Niemi for getting them through that moment of the game-- if Colorado gets on the board first and capitalizes on a few of those opportunities, we could be looking at a very different result tonight.
With San Jose's win they move into first place in the Pacific Division, a spot they haven't held for nearly the entire second half of the season. Their road to capturing their fifth division title in a row won't be easy-- after all, with 5 of their remaining 6 games coming against opponents who are separated by a mere one point as of this posting, their is still a lot of hockey left to be played.
But after rebounding from a near disastrous back to back effort against Anaheim and Los Angeles a mere week ago, the Sharks are looking like they are coming together just at the right time.