Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
They were outshot 30-18 and dominated for much of the night, but the Sharks somehow escaped with a shootout victory and extended their undefeated streak to 6-0.
On January 29, 2012, the San Jose Sharks, unbeknownst to them, were staring down the barrel of a shotgun that would incessantly unleash its contents upon the team's once-sturdy playoff chances over the next month and a half. Horrendous puck luck around their opponents' nets as well as their own would prove to be the Sharks' undoing during their extended futility streak that spanned from February to March and placed a team once considered a lock for the postseason in jeopardy of missing the dance altogether.
Flash forward a calendar year and the Sharks are sitting pretty after a 3-2 shootout win over the Anaheim Ducks that allows them to remain one of just two undefeated teams in the NHL. The script of a year ago has been completely flipped. While every conceivable factor affecting team results went wrong for the Sharks during a second half of the 2011-12 season that was seemingly governed solely by Murphy's law, this time around San Jose has been getting luckier than an anthropomorphic four-leaf clover with a rabbit's foot up its ass. The power play has been phenomenally, unsustainably potent, they're cashing in on their even-strength scoring chances at a far greater clip than they ever did last season and Antti Niemi is looking like Dominik Hasek, only with a functioning groin. Hell, even the penalty kill is actually killing penalties now.
And then there was what transpired at the Tank tonight. The Sharks were outclassed in every facet of the game by a Ducks squad that, as expected, iced three effective forward lines that dictated the pace of the game and controlled play throughout. Perhaps largely due to the absence of Dan Boyle on the back end (and the fact that Brent Burns and Jason Demers are also still out), San Jose was frequently unable to successfully advance the puck through the neutral zone and were outshot 30-18 (including 13-4 in the first period) as a result. And yet, they still came out of their worst performance of the season (really, their worst performance since that 5-2 loss in L.A. near the end of March 2012) with a victory because that's just the way things are going for this team right now. Even in that third period when the team was finally able to gain the Ducks' blueline with some semblance of consistency, they were outchanced 6-0 by Anaheim at even-strength before Logan Couture's shot from the outside flukily eluded Jonas Hiller.
The Sharks aren't as awful a team as they looked tonight. Clearly missing three of your best defensemen and relying solely on Justin Braun to move the puck out of the defensive zone isn't a recipe for success. But they also aren't nearly as good as their 6-0 record indicates. Where the pr-oh-cess was rock-solid but the results just weren't coming a year ago, the Sharks' flawless results have been in stark contrast to their mediocre even-strength play in 2013. I know it's only been six games but if the Sharks aren't able to make improvements territorially, they may be in for some lean times ahead. Hopefully, in a 48-game season, they'll have banked enough points to have solidified a high playoff seed by then.
- Line juggling finally began in earnest during the second period of this game. By the end of regulation, Todd McLellan was rotating units of Scott Gomez, Couture and Ryane Clowe; Tommy Wingels, Michal Handzus and Martin Havlat; and T.J. Galiardi, Andrew Desjardins and Adam Burish. I suppose it technically worked, since Clowe's work between the bluelines and Gomez's drop-pass and subsequent drive to the net created Couture's fortunate tying goal.
- If there's a lesson there, it's that Gomez needs to be supplemented by forwards with actual NHL skill. None of this fourth line with Desjardins and Burish crap, please.
- Not a whole lot to say about Nick Petrecki's NHL debut, seeing as he played under 12 minutes. He made a few nice passes in his own zone to begin the game (which itself made him stick out like a sore thumb on the Sharks' blueline in this one) but his skating wasn't very impressive. Pairing him with Douglas Murray was a poorly conceived plan from the start.
- Marc-Edouard Vlasic was really fighting it in this game, all while leading the defense in ice time. He made a poor read on the Beleskey goal (granted, nearly every Shark on the ice was guilty of puck-watching on that one) and looked particularly sub-par at moving the puck.
- Maybe we should hold off on touting Boyle as the team's most likely cap crunch-induced trade candidate this offseason? (Yes, I said "we" when I was really just referring to myself. Shut up.)
- Yes, the officiating was awful and maddeningly inconsistent in this game. Couldn't really bring myself to get worked up about it considering the Sharks' performance.
- According to the great Darin Stephens, only the 1920-21 Senators and 1994-95 Nordiques had previously opened a season with five straight victories by two or more goals. They also both ceased to exist. Of course, as Nael pointed out to me, both teams went on to win the Cup a year later (the Nords just had to move to Colorado to do so!) so maybe there's hope yet for the 2014 Sharks.
- The shootout: where everything is made up, the points don't matter and Michal Handzus isn't terrible.
- Last but the complete opposite of least: Antti fucking Niemi. For those of you keeping score at home, that's two of the Sharks' six games now that he's almost single-handedly stolen. The Sharks pretty clearly didn't deserve to win this game but Nemo gave them a chance to do so all the same. That save on Corey Perry in overtime might have been Niemi's finest moment as a Shark.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Antti Niemi
2nd Star: Daniel Winnik
3rd Star: Sheldon Souray
Hey, at the end of the day, the Sharks are off to an amazing 6-0 start. They might have a lot of work to do to ensure they continue winning games when the bounces no longer favor them, but I'll take this over the second half of 2011-12 any day. Go Sharks.