It's been a recurring theme all year and, really, has been one of the Sharks' more glaring issues dating back to the 2011-12 season. The team's lack of positive contributions, let alone scoring, from their bottom six forwards has plagued them in innumerable ways; from forcing the top two lines to perform more of the defensive heavy lifting to allowing opposing coaches to exploit soft matchups to causing San Jose to spend every shift without Joe Thornton or Logan Couture on the ice hemmed in their own zone. Also the whole not being able to score enough goals thing. It's hurt in that respect too.
With Ryane Clowe suspended and Tommy Wingels out of commission, you'd expect the team's lack of forward depth to have been exacerbated rather than solved in their game against the Colorado Avalanche. Instead, a makeshift line of T.J. Galiardi, Adam Burish and James Sheppard were dominant for stretches and combined to generate one of the Sharks' two goals, paving the way for a 3-2 victory via coinflips. While it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to draw far-reaching conclusions based on their play in one game against an injury-and-holdout-decimated Avalanche squad, Galiardi and Sheppard had easily their best games in teal so far.
Hell, that would have been the case even if they'd accomplished literally nothing other than scoring the team's go-ahead goal early in the second period, with Sheppard spinning off a check from Greg Zanon behind the Colorado net before feeding a no-look backhand pass across the crease to an open Galiardi. But they were creating chances like that all night, buzzing around Semyon Varlamov's crease. While it was coupled with a few less-than-stellar shifts in their own end, this performance was definitely something to build on for those two players.
And, really, the game itself was something to build on for the team as a whole. They dominated the vast majority of it and, despite not converting with the man advantage, appear to have largely rectified their power play woes after generating 13 5v4 shots in just under 9 minutes. It would still be nice to see more offensive production out of them, especially against a defense corps as bad as the one Colorado iced tonight, but the opportunities were there in spades. While the end result doesn't look all that impressive on paper, this was one of the Sharks' better all-around performances of the season. And, hey, two points is two points.
- Joe Thornton's pass to Logan Couture for the game-opening goal was, to quote the great Daryl Reaugh, sagacious. His pass to Jan Hejda to set up Colorado's tying marker late in the third period? Less so. Paul Stastny likely had the better of his matchup with Jumbo tonight as that line wasn't able to generate much aside from that lone tally and a chance for Brad Stuart from the high slot on an odd-man rush.
- While we're on the subject of the Couture goal, though, a lot of the attention was (rightfully) centered around Thornton's brilliant pass but Martin Havlat's contribution shouldn't be overlooked. That was some textbook forechecking as Havlat expertly anticipated Matt Hunwick's breakout pass, thwarting that attempt and directing the puck down low for Jumbo to work his magic.
- This was also Scott Gomez's best game as a Shark. He's essentially an instant zone entry on the power play, he worked the cycle effectively with Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski (although his playmaking chemistry with his new wingers is still a work in progress) and took over the game for a shift in overtime, setting up Pavelski and Justin Braun for chance after chance. It's important to understand both his limitations and strengths as a player; keep him with scoring wingers and he'll be able to control the flow of the game as he did tonight more often than not.
- The Sharks' own-zone coverage on the Kobasew goal was pretty brutal. Failed zone exit by Sheppard, Handzus and Kennedy can't recover in time to clog up the requisite shooting lanes, Douglas Murray (who was awful tonight) decides to just deck players instead of even trying to play defense and Demers' crease-clear ends up on the tape of the Avs' forward.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: T.J. Galiardi
2nd Star: Semyon Varlamov
3rd Star: Patrick Marleau
There are still aspects of their defensive coverage that the Sharks can work on but this was a dominant performance. The caveat is that it came against a banged up and dreadful Avalanche outfit. The question will be whether San Jose can match this level of play on Thursday against the Red Wings. Go Sharks.