In the wake of the Sharks' 4-0 shellacking of Montreal on Saturday that we described as nearly flawless, it seemed like there was nowhere to go for San Jose but down. What we overlooked is that there was another way for them to go. That way is up, and that's the exact trajectory the Sharks took tonight with about as dominant a sixty-minute performance as you'll see in the modern NHL. Sure, the deck was stacked heavily in San Jose's favor; they were on home ice, they were facing the second-worst possession team in the league and their opponent was on the second half of a back-to-back after having played last night in Anaheim.
But the results are still remarkable. At five-on-five, the Sharks controlled 74.4% of all unblocked shot attempts, the fourth-greatest single-game showing this season (two of the three above it were also authored by San Jose). Overall, the Sharks outshot Toronto 48-21, even managing a 17-9 edge in the third period when the game was already decided. And most importantly, they blew the Leafs away on the scoreboard with a 6-2 win that saw Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Tommy Wingels and James Sheppard all notch multi-point efforts.
At times, this game felt like it was being played in slow-motion with how passively the Maple Leafs were defending in their own zone. Whenever the Sharks lost possession due to misplays or fumbled passes, they always got it back; the Leafs simply didn't seem interested in pouncing on loose pucks or venturing far from the slot in scenes that resembled Team Latvia facing Team Canada three weeks ago. The few times they did gain control of the puck in their own end, there was little Toronto's defensemen could do but chip it out and attempt a line change. There are underlying issues with that team that seem likely to erupt and consume them, and they were only exacerbated in this game with the Leafs playing for the second consecutive night.
The most significant result of this game from a Sharks perspective is that they're now just two points behind the Anaheim Ducks, despite being 13 points shy of the Pacific Division leader less than two months ago. A division crown and even a Presidents' Trophy seems plausibly within reach for the Sharks at this point. As much as that obviously isn't the team's ultimate goal, avoiding a first-round date with the Los Angeles Kings is paramount. The Sharks probably won't be able to put up performances as lopsided as these past three games once the Western Conference leg of their schedule resumes but the fact that they outright dominated three teams atop the Eastern standings isn't meaningless. If they can sustain anything approaching their play in these wins over Pittsburgh, Montreal and Toronto over the remainder of the season, the Sharks should easily overtake the Ducks.
- Tommy Wingels' game-winning goal (and, really, his entire game tonight) was a thing of beauty. He started the play by coming in like a wrecking ball on Peter Holland in the defensive zone, drew the ire of David Clarkson who cross-checked him all the way to the Leafs net where the overpaid Toronto winger promptly screened James Reimer on a Justin Braun point shot that Wingels deflected past him.
- Wingels also added an assist and a fight with Joffrey Lupul (at the end of a bizarre sequence during which Dion Phaneuf challenged Marty Havlat, of all people, to a fight) for the Gordie Howe Hat Trick. More importantly, his goal, drawn penalty and disallowed goal gave him a Tommy Wingels Hat Trick.
- Matt Nieto continues to hone his confidence on that line with Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture. He had a particularly impressive shift tonight where he curled-and-drag a puck around Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner then made a nifty saucer pass on his backhand to Couture.
- Joe Pavelski was inches away from moving into Jonathan Cheechoo territory with his third hat trick of the season but had to settle for two. Still, his 33rd and 34th of the season tied with his Team USA teammate across the ice in Phil Kessel for third in the NHL.
- This is a thing that happened, and it basically sumps up the Leafs tonight (via Thomas Drance):
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Tommy Wingels
2nd Star: Joe Pavelski
3rd Star: Joe Thornton