After gaining international notoriety for inciting a line brawl to open their last game against Vancouver, there was always the off-chance the Calgary Flames would try to turn tonight's contest into something of a melee as well. Instead, the Flames and Sharks combined for just one penalty all night long; a hooking minor to Matt Stajan in the latter stages of the second period that produced Joe Pavelski's second goal of the game (his sixth in the last three) which held up as the game-winner in a 3-2 San Jose victory. It wasn't pretty, but an injury-riddled Sharks team notched its fourth win in a row and pulled six points ahead of the 3rd-place Los Angeles Kings fifty games into both teams' 2013-14 seasons.
Despite controlling play territorially to start, the Sharks gave up quality looks to the Flames on those few occasions early in the first period on which Calgary had the puck. One of those looks came courtesy Jiri Hudler, who danced around Brad Stuart and fired a backhand shot past Antti Niemi less than five minutes in. Eight minutes later, a Justin Braun point shot would deflect off Joe Pavelski and Mark Giordano to tie the game. Before the SAP Center crowd could even slip back into their seats, a Tommy Wingels wrister from the half-wall floated past Karri Ramo to give the Sharks their first lead of the night, only to be answered by Kevin Westgarth, of all people, converting a Brian McGrattan rebound less than a minute after that.
Things settled down for the most part in the second period until Pavelski's aforementioned power play marker, which came off what was essentially a broken play as the Sharks manufactured an awkward-looking zone entry that somewhat inadvertently broke down the Flames' shorthanded coverage and left Pavelski wide open in front of Ramo to tip in a Joe Thornton pass. Despite the win, there wasn't a ton to like about this game from a Sharks perspective. They went into full-on protect-the-lead mode in the third period, outshot 11-6 by a rather hapless Flames team, but that was expected.
The real concerns stem from how permissive the Sharks were at their own blueline, allowing everyone from Hudler right down to Westgarth to carry the puck in unimpeded for Calgary. While the Flames simply aren't good enough to turn those types of plays into extended zone time, it did lead to some dangerous chances against. That probably isn't something San Jose can get away with against a better team than the 6th-place club in the Pacific. Thankfully, the Sharks have some pretty easy sledding the rest of the way prior to the Olympic break, but Todd McLellan was justifiably unsatisfied with this performance and those sorts of coverage mistakes are things he'll likely want to see his team tighten up.
- Most people laughed at Bob Hartley's insinuation following the Vancouver incident that the Flames coach started his fourth line for their hockey talent. He sure must have felt vindicated when Kevin Westgarth banged home a Brian McGrattan rebound to tie this game late in the first period.
- Only one player in the NHL has more goals than Joe Pavelski this season, and his name is Alexander Ovechkin. I have no idea how much money Pavelski would have raked in this offseason had he opted to test unrestricted free agency. Glen Sather probably would have given him all of Manhattan.
- This game featured more sharply stratified zone deployment from Todd McLellan than I've seen him use in a while. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Jason Demers didn't start a single shift in the offensive zone while the Marleau and Thornton lines as well as the Irwin/Boyle pairing were buried in their own end as well. On the flipside, the Andrew Desjardins line started eight shifts in Calgary's end and just one in the defensive zone.
- Buoyed in part by his offensively-skewed usage, Tyler Kennedy generated six shots on goal, missed the net on an additional attempt and had two other attempts blocked. It's been over fifty years since a Kennedy took this many shots.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Joe Pavelski
2nd Star: Tyler Kennedy
3rd Star: T.J. Brodie