For the first time since 2010, the Sharks scored a regular season goal in St. Louis. For the first time since February 5th, they established a lead. And for the first time since the last day of January, San Jose won a hockey game, snapping a seven-game losing streak with a 2-1 victory over the Blues.
It was far from a perfect game as the Blues controlled play late in the first period and for much of the second following an opening flurry of penalties. St. Louis' tenacious forecheck gave the Sharks fits for stretches, at times darkly reminiscent of last spring's playoff series between these clubs. But the Sharks came on strong in the final frame, perhaps buoyed by the Blues' flight delay-induced tired legs, generating a slew of chances before Tim Kennedy fired a shot from the grassy knoll past Jake Allen for his second goal in as many games.
The Sharks weren't all that much better tonight than they were during much of the losing streak, but save for a few stinkers, they were never playing awfully to begin with. Where the rebound of Dan Boyle's shot may have fluttered aside harmlessly rather than finding Joe Thornton in front of a gaping net or Kennedy's snipe would have been a routine save by an opposing goaltender, the bounces finally went in San Jose's favor tonight. Another terrific performance from Antti Niemi helped them weather the storm early before the Sharks took over with a three-line attack in the third period, defeating the team that knocked them out of the 2012 postseason and getting back in the win column for the first time in 20 days.
- He had the misfortune of being stuck behind the Sharks' terrible fourth line for a few shifts but I thought Brent Burns took a significant step towards being the Brent Burns of a season ago tonight. His breakout passes were crisp and effective, his skating was much improved from the Chicago and Columbus games and he displayed some flashes of creativity in the offensive zone. There's still a ways to go before he gets back to being one of the most dominant defensemen in the NHL, but at least he appears to be getting there.
- The top line had their best game as a unit since the 4-1 win over Vancouver more than three weeks ago, which not-so-coincidentally was the last time the Sharks won in regulation before tonight. Even besides the Thornton goal, they generated several quality chances and were effective possession players again.
- Vladimir Tarasenko had a few opportunities to go one-on-one against Douglas Murray, with predictable results. In fairness, I thought Murray had his best game of the season, as always paired with the perpetually reliable Justin Braun. Still think Jason Demers deserves to be in the lineup though.
- T.J. Oshie tried to take Tommy Wingels' lunch money and Wingels fought back. That was awesome.
- I think Dan Boyle may have provided a timely assist on the backcheck, but there are few players in the NHL I'd be more comfortable with having be the lone defenseman on a 3-on-1 than Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
- Kennedy had three scoring chances in this game, and that's excluding his goal which didn't fit the chance criteria.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Tim Kennedy
2nd Star: Antti Niemi
3rd Star: Patrik Berglund
That was a relief. The Sharks will have their third chance this season to hand the Blackhawks their first regulation defeat of 2013 on Friday. Let's hope it's the charm, because how satisfying would that be? Still, I'll settle for an actual win against the actual Blues in St. Louis. Go Sharks.