Sometimes your best-laid plans shit the bed. For the first time this season, spurred on no doubt by the team's rash of forward injuries, the Sharks went all-in on icing a top-heavy offense by deploying a first line comprised by the best left wing, best center and best right wing on the San Jose roster. Inexplicably, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Brent Burns may have been the team's least effective combination in a 2-1 overtime victory over the Dallas Stars that moved San Jose to just seven points behind first-place Anaheim with one game remaining prior to the Olympic break.
Instead, it was Marty Havlat powering the Sharks' offense with a deflection goal to open the scoring late in the second period followed up by a perfect backhand pass to Tommy Wingels less than two minutes into overtime that sealed the victory for San Jose. Most importantly, the Sharks' effort in this game was night and day compared to their listless showing against the Flyers on Monday. After being outplayed in every facet of the game versus one of the worst even-strength teams in the NHL two nights prior, San Jose came out and largely took the play to one of the league's best even-strength clubs tonight.
The reunited American Express line of Matt Nieto, Joe Pavelski and Wingels was excellent until Nieto sustained an injury blocking a Trevor Daley shot at the end of the second. The fourth line, featuring Adam Burish for the first time this season, provided the team with some solid shifts particularly in the early going. Even Scott Hannan got in on the action, setting up both goals with terrific passes to Havlat. While you'd think a collective off-night by three of their most dangerous forwards—and an off-night it certainly was as Marleau, Thornton and Burns failed to sustain much offensive-zone pressure at even-strength, were shaky on the power play and were on the ice for Valeri Nichushkin's tying goal—would doom the Sharks in their current state, they were finally able to get contributions from their depth players. They're still a long way from icing their full complement of forwards, but tonight's victory provided a small glimpse of what the Sharks might look like when that finally happens.
- Another great start for Alex Stalock. His defense once again did a great job in front of him denying many quality looks but Stalock was tracking well, alert in challenging opposing shooters and typically terrific handling the puck. Hard to fault him on the Nichushkin goal when it was an unguarded one-timer from the middle of the slot by a player with a sick release.
- Hannan and Matt Irwin were an unlikely pairing in this game and, as bizarre as it sounds, were more effective than Dan Boyle and Irwin have at any time in the past two months. Granted, the coaching staff understandably kept them away from the Tyler Seguin line and frequently started them in the offensive zone but they kept play in the right end of the rink and Hannan figured in prominently on both goals. Weird stuff.
- Cody Eakin didn't have a particularly noteworthy game for the Stars but I really think he's going to be a very good player for them in the near future. He reminds me a lot of a young Patrick Marleau with the way he can control play through the middle of the ice with his skating ability. On the other end of the spectrum, Alex Chiasson still skates like he's incapable of bending his knees.
- I'm glad Dallas got a point here because I remain convinced they're the one wild card contender that can really put the screws to Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs. I might even pick them to win that series if it were to begin tomorrow.
- Another awesome game for James Sheppard, who seems to play off Havlat nicely. Despite starting twice as many shifts in his own end as the offensive zone, he did a great job of pushing play forward with five offensive zone entries, four of which came while retaining control of the puck. Including misses and blocks, San Jose outshot Dallas 12-6 when he was on the ice at evens.
- Finally, courtesy of Ann, here's Marc-Edouard Vlasic (or DefenseTron 3000) being re-assembled prior to his next shift:
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Marty Havlat
2nd Star: Tommy Wingels
3rd Star: Alex Stalock