The Columbus Blue Jackets are a very good hockey team. That's not something we've been able to say all that often before in the franchise's 14-year existence; even last season when the club made a late push to contend for a playoff spot (and steamrolled the Sharks twice in Ohio over the course of the year), they were largely reliant on Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky to bail them out on a nightly basis.
On this night, it was Sharks goaltender Alex Stalock who had a star turn in the crease, outdueling Bobrovsky and keeping San Jose in a game during which it was thoroughly outplayed for long stretches. Columbus dominated the second period and were incessant in their bid to mount a comeback after falling behind in the third. Both runs produced goals, as a shorthanded marker from R.J. Umberger pulled the Jackets ahead in the middle frame while a bomb from James Wisniewski tied the game with five minutes to go, but Stalock was otherwise lights out.
Of Stalock's 35 saves on the evening, none was more impressive or more significant than a right-pad robbery of Jack Johnson with seconds left in regulation that secured the Sharks at least a point. Their second point would come courtesy a flawless showing by their netminder in the shootout, where Stalock is now a perfect 10-for-10 on the campaign. One of the three Jackets shooters he denied, Ryan Johansen, opened the scoring for Columbus in the first period after a defensive-zone turnover by Justin Braun produced a loose puck in the San Jose slot.
Patrick Marleau tied the game with the first of his two goals in this one, cashing in a centering feed from Logan Couture after Matt Nieto forced David Savard to turn it over behind his own net. The Couture line continued to chip in offense on the first shift of the third period, as Couture occupied Johnson in front of Bobrovsky, allowing the rebound of a Marc-Edouard Vlasic shot to find Nieto for a relatively easy goal. Marleau struck again to give San Jose its first lead of the night six minutes into the third, as well as the team's first power play goal in two weeks. Wisniewski would tie it after a breakdown in defensive coverage left him wide open at the top of the right circle.
It wasn't pretty; in fact, it might have been the Sharks' weakest overall effort since the Olympic break. But Stalock was excellent, Marleau was opportunistic and Joe Pavelski continues to shock everyone who thought his shootout repertoire consisted of precisely one move. Most importantly, they picked up two points which ties them with Anaheim atop the Pacific Division standings, although the Ducks retain the one-seed due to their game in hand. Still, considering San Jose was 13 points behind Anaheim as little as two months ago, that turn of events is more than welcome.
- I could watch these teams go at it in overtime for days, although the Sharks generating a bit more in the way of scoring opportunities than they did in the extra period tonight would be a nice addition. There was just one stoppage in the five-minute four-on-four session as San Jose successfully killed off the remainder of a Jackets power play but also made a couple of high-risk turnovers that got the ol' heart racing.
- Unsurprisingly, Desjardins/Burish/Brown looked horrible against a team with a fourth line that doesn't include Colton Orr. Thankfully, none of them played more than seven minutes in this game, perhaps as a result of giving up that goal to Johansen early on. Hopefully that's enough to convince the coaching staff to re-insert Tyler Kennedy in favor of Brown or Burish.
- I continue to be pleasantly surprised by how competent Scott Hannan has looked since the Olympic break. He plays his angles better than a protractor, routinely forcing opposing forwards into the boards where he can wrest the puck away from them, or leaving them no other options but a shot attempt directly into Hannan's chest. Should Brad Stuart ever get healthy, I don't think I would take Hannan out of the lineup to put him back in.
- Ryan Johansen always passes the eye test when I watch him play and this game was no exception. It's a testament to the season he's having that Todd Richards trusts a 21-year-old kid to match up against Joe Thornton on a regular basis but Johansen was terrific in shutting down his childhood idol.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Alex Stalock
2nd Star: Patrick Marleau
3rd Star: Ryan Johansen