There are shutouts where your goaltender is tasked with turning aside a slew of grade-A opportunities, prevailing on each successive shot against all odds. Call it The Ben Scrivens Experience. Not to take anything away from Antti Niemi, who stopped 27 shots and preserved his clean sheet late in the third period with a pad save on a Tomas Plekanec shorthanded effort, but this wasn't exactly a Scrivening. In reality, the Sharks played one of their most flawless games of the season, suffocating the Montreal Canadiens on those few occasions they were able to enter the San Jose zone but spending the majority of the evening toying with the Habs in their end of the rink. Montreal was allowed precious few chances to score, while the Sharks peppered Peter Budaj then Dustin Tokarski with Tommy Wingels alone scoring twice on eight shots.
Two nights after a thrilling comeback win over Pittsburgh, the Sharks notched a victory that was just as impressive but far less stressful. The outcome was seldom in doubt from the start of the first period, with Wingels barreling into Budaj to knock the rebound of a Logan Couture shorthanded bid into the net just two and a half minutes in. Wingels would strike again less than two minutes into the second period, deflecting a Matt Irwin point shot past Budaj to chase the Canadiens netminder from the game and conclude an extended shift of offensive-zone dominance by San Jose. A rush down the left wing five minutes later by Patrick Marleau led to a centering pass for Matt Nieto, left unguarded in the slot by a confused-looking Douglas Murray (welcome back, Crankshaft!) allowing Nieto to one-time the puck home. Nieto would set up Logan Couture's 18th goal of the season to extend the Sharks' lead to four less than a minute into the third.
There's very little not to like about the way the Sharks dusted off the third-place team in the Eastern Conference tonight. They rendered Montreal's offensive weapons, in particular high-powered defensemen P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov, a non-factor. They drove the net with abandon, as both of Wingels' tallies as well as Couture's came from strong plays at the lip of the crease. But perhaps most importantly, they didn't let up when holding a 3-0 lead, seeming to instead grow more dominant as the game went along. That's a recipe for winning a lot of games, which the Sharks look poised to do with the Leafs, Blue Jackets and Islanders on the docket.
- If there's something to pick apart, it's the power play which contributed to a first period lull by generating nothing against an aggressive Canadiens kill that was standing the Sharks up at the blueline every chance they had. You wouldn't have been blamed for expecting some semblance of carry-over after San Jose looked lethal with the man-advantage against the Penguins on Thursday but penalty killing has been an integral part of Montreal's success this season. They're legitimately good at it.
- Two of Niemi's three shutouts this season have come against the Canadiens, which means they'll hopefully stick around for the rest of the season to shoot on Nemo in practice and build up his confidence.
- Brian Gionta punching a kneeling James Sheppard while being on eye level with him is one of the better sight gags I've seen at a Sharks game in a while.
- Shows what I know for saying Matt Nieto didn't look like a long-term fit on the right wing with Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture. That line was flying all over the ice tonight, scoring two goals and controlling upwards of 65% of the shot attempts at 5v5. If Nieto can continue to flash playmaking creativity, as he did on Couture's goal, he might be able to elevate that line to new heights after all.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Tommy Wingels
2nd Star: Antti Niemi
3rd Star: Logan Couture