It wasn't pretty, as the fatigue factor certainly kicked in during the third period of the Sharks' second game in as many nights. But San Jose extended its winning streak to five with a 4-3 victory over Evgeni Nabokov and the New York Islanders that vaults them, at least for the time being, into first place in the Pacific Division.
The second line of Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Matt Nieto that accounted for all of the Sharks' offense in their win over Columbus yesterday single-handedly pulled San Jose out of its early doldrums in this one. Despite yielding six of the first seven shots, the Sharks were able to get on the scoreboard first courtesy a singular effort by the aforementioned trio. Marleau, Couture and Nieto set up an extended cycle in the Islanders zone that eventually resulted in a clean look from the slot for Nieto, who beat Nabokov on something of a change-up. Jason Demers extended the Sharks' lead to two on a goal that was decidedly more pretty (via Steph):
New York got one back two shifts into the second period, as Scott Hannan helped an Anders Lee backhand shot past the goal line. The Sharks would regain their two-goal lead midway through the game as Joe Thornton beat his former goaltender on the rebound of a Brent Burns shot. Islander forward Brock Nelson and Shark forward Marty Havlat would trade goals late in the middle frame, and it's a good thing Havlat responded as an extra-attacker tally by Frans Nielsen with a little over twenty seconds left in the third would pull the Isles to within a goal again.
Back-to-backs can be brutal (lest we forget, the Maple Leafs actually outshot the Kings on L.A.'s second game in as many nights earlier in the year) so it probably isn't as concerning the Sharks tailed off in a game against what's essentially the Isles' AHL affiliate at this point as it would have been if San Jose was well-rested. They accumulated the two points and that's ultimately what matters as the Sharks move into first place in the division for the first time since October.
- Good to see the third line chip in with two goals, although it seemed like they had some serious struggles defensively, particularly with getting the puck out of their own end successfully. That was despite the coaching staff heavily sheltering them, starting that line in the offensive zone on 75% of their non-neutral shifts. Highly-touted Islanders rookie Ryan Strome and his linemates had a fairly easy time generating offense when they were on the ice against Sheppard and company.
- Brutal shift for Strome on the Havlat goal, though. Strome lost a defensive-zone faceoff, turned the puck over to Havlat on the half-wall after a Vlasic shot hit traffic, then was turned inside-out by James Sheppard, allowing Sheppard to find Havlat in the slot. Strome is an important piece of the Islanders future but it's tough to win many games when so many of the players logging significant minutes for you are kids essentially learning on the job.
- Maybe the best thing to come of Havlat's two-point game will be him somewhat solidifying a spot in the lineup. He's a polarizing player but so clearly more valuable than the likes of Adam Burish and Mike Brown, regardless of what role he's deployed in. An offensive outburst (and two points qualifies given Havlat's production over the past two seasons) like this one might be enough to make the coaching staff agree.
- Travis Hamonic had a terrific game on the Islanders blueline, hard-matched against Joe Thornton's line for the majority of the night. Nearly 60% of the 5-on-5 shot attempts with Hamonic on the ice went in the Islanders' favor, and he broke up a Brent Burns breakaway attempt early in the game. Andrew MacDonald had been weighing him down for much of the season; now that MacDonald in Philadelphia, maybe Hamonic can finally blossom into the top-pairing defenseman it looks like he can become.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Matt Nieto
2nd Star: Frans Nielsen
3rd Star: Marty Havlat