Coming off a regular season and playoffs in which they routinely converted on power play opportunities but struggled to get anything going five aside, the Sharks opened their 2013-14 campaign tonight by completely flipping that script with a 0-for-8 showing on the man advantage but four even-strength goals. Regardless of how they got there, the end result was a familiar one: yet another win against the Vancouver Canucks, the franchise's eighth straight dating back to last season and tenth in a row including this year's preseason.
Brent Burns scored to validate his coach's decision to keep him up front this season, Justin Braun scored for the first time since February 2012 and Patrick Marleau scored because it was a game against the Canucks to secure the Sharks a 4-1 win. San Jose got off to a bit of an uneven start in the opening half of the first period as Vancouver's first and second lines were able to establish a bit of a territorial edge early and ended up producing a power play goal off a Jason Garrison blast. But a flurry of chances from the Joe Thornton line over the final ten minutes of the opening frame allowed the Sharks to enter the first intermission with a 16-7 advantage on the shot clock.
It was eventually Burns who tied the score after a forechecking Thornton forced a Garrison turnover right to the stick of rookie Tomas Hertl who fed Burns on the counterattack for the Sharks' first goal of the regular season. Braun's floater from the point through traffic would give San Jose its first lead of the night in taco time but not before the Sharks uncharacteristically blew a full two-minute 5-on-3 power play. With a little over five minutes remaining in the third, Logan Couture stripped the puck from Chris Higgins in the latter's own zone and sent the puck cross-ice for Marleau who steeped the Sharks to a two goal lead. Tommy Wingels blew the game wide open a little over a minute later, cashing in at the front of the net off an Andrew Desjardins feed in the aftermath of a 2-on-0 break.
It wasn't the elusive flawless victory, as the Sharks could have managed a better performance with the man-advantage and would have liked a better game from Matt Irwin and Dan Boyle given the minutes they received, but the fact that they rattled off four goals at evens is an encouraging sign considering the team's struggles in that department last season. Also, beating the Canucks just never gets old.
- To put into context how much of a departure from 2013's 5-on-5 futility this game was, the Sharks scored four even-strength goals in a game just three times all of last season, none of which came until March 25th in their 31st game of the year: in a 5-3 win over Anaheim on the 25th, a 5-4 shootout loss to Dallas in early April and a 6-1 win over Minnesota a few weeks later.
- As awful as that extended 5-on-3 looked, with Joe Pavelski in particular guilty of whiffing on several plum opportunities from the left faceoff circle, the Sharks did register 8 shots in 10:12 of 5-on-4 time (and three more on that two-man advantage). That isn't the elite average they're used to but given the Sharks' track record in this department, it's the last thing worth worrying about after just one game.
- Speaking of special teams, the Sharks' penalty kill looked splendid despite giving up that Garrison goal. San Jose generated as many shots shorthanded (two, and both of them were ten-bell chances) as Vancouver did up a man.
- While Justin Braun was useful in a shutdown role during the second half of last season, he wasn't as much of a factor offensively as he had been in prior years. Perhaps some of that was due to the hamate bone fracture he sustained in Finland during the lockout which is reportedly fully healed at this point. Braun scored tonight for the first time since before that injury. Probably a coincidence, but still worth monitoring for a team that could use more offensive punch from its blueline.
- According to friend of the blog and terrific hockey writer Corey Sznajder, the Sharks held Vancouver to just 15 controlled zone entries at even-strength tonight, with the Canucks resorting to a dump-in on an additional 25.
- Hopefully Roberto Luongo doesn't get grilled too bad for this one; he was the only one keeping things close for as long as they were with several key saves, turning away a Pavelski shorthanded breakaway, a Burns backhand from the slot and a beautiful centering pass by a streaking Marleau to Logan Couture.
- Matt Pelech was 25 seconds away from getting through this game without taking a stupid penalty.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Logan Couture
2nd Star: Justin Braun
3rd Star: Antti Niemi
From our friend Sean Gentille comes this GIF that appropriately sums up tonight's events: