Well that was awesome.
It's still far too early in the season to draw sweeping conclusions about, well, anything but there was a point in that third period after Lauri Korpikoski pulled his best Pavel Datsyuk impression to score from an embarrassing angle on Antti Niemi where it seemed like the Sharks had finally fallen back down to earth. Perhaps their successful swing through Alberta against two decidedly inept teams was merely a mirage and the woeful penalty killing and mediocre defending against the rush that plagued San Jose over the past two seasons had finally reared its ugly head yet again. It's still entirely possible these three games aren't at all indicative of what's in store over the next 45. In fact, there's no chance the Sharks keep up this pace offensively. But the final eleven minutes of the Sharks' 5-3 comeback win over Phoenix represents at least a temporary silencing of the myriad detractors who believe this team is too slow, too old and too Patrick Marleau-ed to remain competitive.
The win certainly wasn't all sunshine and lollipops and Owen Nolan bobbleheads either. San Jose got into penalty trouble in the second period and, with this team, penalty trouble usually translates into goals against fairly quickly. They looked sluggish for most of that frame, ceding the blueline far too easily and allowing Phoenix to outshoot them 13-2. Granted, the Sharks were largely able to keep the Coyotes' scoring attempts to the outside but they were unable to launch anything resembling a counterattack after being repeatedly hemmed in their own zone. It wasn't until that weak goal by Korpikoski that the team decided it might be a good idea to get back to actually playing hockey. Joe Thornton received the puck off the backboards to the right of 'Yotes goaltender Jason LaBarbera before expertly setting up Patrick Marleau in the slot for his fifth goal of the season. Four minutes later, after an extended shift in the Phoenix zone, Martin Havlat sent a one-time feed to Ryane Clowe near the hashmarks. LaBarbera stopped the first attempt but Havlat was there to bank in the rebound and tie the game. Finally, on by far the prettiest play of the night, Thornton fired a breakout pass from behind center ice into the offensive zone where Pavelski tipped the puck to Marleau, who fired an uncontested wrist shot past LaBarbera thanks to the only other Coyote in his vicinity being Derek "how am I still in the NHL?" Morris.
Following the game, Thornton yanked Brodie Brazil's microphone away from him during the Three Stars celebration to thank the fanbase for returning after the league's four-month sojourn of labor unrest. As ridiculous as the lockout was, it sure feels like Sharks fans will have some pretty compelling reasons to come back and stay put.
- Joe Thornton now leads the NHL in scoring. Not bad for being washed up and past his prime.
- Patrick Marleau now leads the NHL in goals. Not bad for being a gutless choker.
- In all seriousness, it's been three games. This pretty obviously isn't going to last. The Sharks have scored on 11.1% of their even-strength shots and 33.3% of their power play shots. Marleau is shooting at 46.2%. Still, after suffering through horrendous puck luck for much of last season, it's nice to see the PDO gods working in the Sharks' favor so far.
- More from the obvious department of obviousness: Douglas Murray doesn't look so good. He seems to be fully cognizant of his skating deficiencies and is playing more conservatively in the neutral zone as a result...but he tends to just get burned anyway. One sequence in the first period when he was defending against Matthew Lombardi, one of the faster skaters in the league, was particularly jarring. Poor Murray has also been on the ice for six of the Sharks' seven goals against so far this year despite playing fewer minutes than anyone else on the blueline (although he has been used heavily on the PK).
- A full two minute 5-on-3 power play is pretty much an automatic goal in the NHL but it is darkly amusing that the Sharks' penalty kill is so bad that we're settling for moral victories rather than them actually killing penalties. But, again, three games. They've done some things well, a lot of it still seems like a work in progress and a whack of their decision-making shorthanded reeks of the last two seasons. Still, we should probably give them a bit more time to sort this out. I really don't think Murray is a fit here though.
- On the flipside, the Sharks' power play is the best thing ever. Their puck movement has been spectacular and they're routinely scoring seconds into a man advantage. We knew this would be the strongest aspect of their game coming into the season but it's nice to have some reassurance early.
- I said it after Tuesday's game but it bears repeating after this one: Martin Havlat has looked downright dangerous so far. He appears to finally be healthy and he's creating scoring chances for himself and his linemates in droves as a result.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Patrick Marleau
2nd Star: Joe Thornton
3rd Star: Martin Havlat
Along with the Senators, Devils, Blackhawks and (somehow) the fucking Ducks, the Sharks are among the final five undefeated teams in the NHL this year. I'll bet that number is smaller by the time they take the ice against the Avalanche on Saturday afternoon. Go Sharks.