Another one of Mr. K.'s creations...
In the midst of all the hoopla surrounding Ron Wilson's return to the Shark Tank after being fired nearly seven months ago, it became all too easy to lose track of another subplot that threatened to slip under the radar: Joe Thornton's third anniversary in Teal.
Lest anyone forget, Jumbo Joe drove home the reminder with 4 points in the first period, sending the Sharks well on their way to a 5-2 victory over Wilson's Toronto Maple Leafs, not to mention a 21-3-1 start, tying the 1943-44 Montreal Canadiens for most points ever in 25 games.
After Teal Town loudly cheered Vesa Toskala's name when it was announced for Toronto's starting lineup, I began to wonder how Wilson would be feted.
The official word on the street (read -in the AP sports recaps) is that he received a standing ovation. That belies the fact that Wilson did in fact receive a hearty amount of boos, even if they were drowned out by the applause. I would estimate that it was 30% boos, but that's hardly scientific. I'll say this much - Mike Modano received less boos when he tied and broke the American-born goal-scoring record on Sharks ice.
The Sharks have recently developed a knack for scoring goals within their first two shots of the game. We saw this with Phoenix after the Sharks dropped to 0-2 in the first 3 1/2 minutes. First two Sharks shots - both goals, tying the game - and seeing Bryzgalov replaced. When the Washington Capitals kept us without a shot for over nine minutes, Patty Marleau fired back with a goal on the Sharks' first shot, inaugurating the barrage that would be a decisive 7-2 victory.
Tonight, Devin "Vote for The Gooch" Setoguchi scored just 75 seconds into the game on the (I believe) second shot of the night - a backhand near the left circle. Setoguchi's goal was his 13th of the season, and was assisted by Anniversary Boy himself, as well as Rob Blake.
Shortly thereafter, Douglas Murray (who was also celebrating his third anniversary with the Sharks) spun Maple Leafs d-man Anton Stralman, causing the latter to limp back to the bench. He appeared back on the ice within a few minutes.
For what it's worth, the Maple Leafs' first shot on goal came at about 4:30.
The next Sharks goal came at 6:35 when the puck came off the top of Toskala's net, and was banged in during the ensuing scrum in the crease. Joe Thornton received credit for his 7th goal of the season, and Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau assisted. The goal also came during a delayed penalty call on Toronto, so San Jose did not go on the man advantage.
After giving up a soft goal and a fluke, Vesa Toskala had some nice saves off of Milan Michalek at 8:28. By 9:10, San Jose was leading in shots, 8-5.
That would begin to change when Jody Shelley was called for hooking at 11:03. The shot ratio began to narrow to 9-8 (SJ) when the majority of the power play was spent in San Jose's zone. While the Sharks did kill the penalty, they did not clear the puck for almost an additional 30 seconds.
At around the 15 minute mark, San Jose had won just 40% of the faceoffs. They also had 4 blocked shots to Toronto's 9, the edge in hits (11 to 10), and of course, a 2-0 lead.
San Jose padded that lead with the eventual game winner, courtesy of Dan Boyle. Boyle was set up in the slot from Patrick Marleau at the point (interesting role change, there...). Joe Thornton had the extra assist, for his third point of the night.
At 16:25 Jeff Finger was called for holding the stick, and San Jose went on their first power play of the game. Joe Thornton was not quite through celebrating his teal anniversary, and made a no-look pass that missed Marleau, but found the eager Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who slapped it in at 17:07. "Pickles"'s power play goal was his third of the season. Devin Setoguchi also assisted for his second point of the night.
That was the bulk of the game's excitement - a 4-0 Sharks lead after 17 minutes. Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski had an embarrassing combination of a fall and dropped stick that rendered their line ineffectual in the closing minutes of the period, but nothing serious came of it. San Jose finished the period leading 4-0 on 13 shots, to Toronto's 10.
Vesa's save percentage was just 69.2%, making it seem likely that he would not see further action. Despite having a novel way of emulating Iron Mike Keenan earlier this season, Ron Wilson held onto Toskala for the duration of the game.
In the early minutes of the second period, Jason Blake and Lee Stempniak were both hit and dropped their sticks in tandem. San Jose then earned a bench minor for too many men at 4:15, which was served by Setoguchi. Mike Grier had a shorthanded chance on the Leafs' power play - even though nothing came of it, the Sharks managed to kill off their second penalty of the night.
At 9:10, it looked like Joe Thornton's fluke goal might end up as the game winner, because Toronto finally got on the board thanks to Nikolai Kulemin at the right circle. He was assisted by former Dallas Star Niklas Hagman and Ryan Hollweg. The Leafs finished the period leading in shots on goal, 22 to 19, in hits, FORTY-FIVE to 18, and in blocked shots, 15 to 9 - but still had a hefty goal deficit to close.
At 3:22 of the third period, Sharks newbie Riley Armstrong was called for hooking - and the Toronto defense allowed San Jose to not only kill the penalty, but add a shorthanded goal. Tomas Kaberle fell down at the point, allowing Joe Pavelski and Milan Michalek to skirt through to the Leafs' zone, with only Ian White to defend. Pavelski's shorthanded goal was his 2nd such goal of the year, and 11th overall.
Ryan Hollweg and Pavel Kubina served two separate penalties (slashing and holding, respectively) that Toronto managed to kill successfully, beginning at 11:45, and continuing to 16:14. Riley Armstrong had a brilliant chance, but was unable to send the puck past Toskala.
Niklas Hagman had a breakaway shortly after the Kubina penalty expired, and Evgeni Nabokov came out to make the save, at 16:50. Hagman would ultimately pad his stats with a goal at 19:26 - but his non-celebration, even after notching a second point for the evening, was indicative of what the Toronto community was feeling in general tonight. Nik Antropov and Mikhail Grabovski were credited the assists.
The only other excitement to report other than the 5-2 Sharks victory - Tomas Plihal was hit cleanly at the boards by Luke Schenn around 19:47, and Marcel Goc (evidently still pumped over his assist in Phoenix) decided to rough the latter up some, earning both men minor penalties (Goc a double minor) that were absolutely meaningless at that point in the game.
Final score - 5-2. Toronto had the slight edge in s.o.g., with 31 to 30. The faceoff wins were even at 24. Nabby had 29 saves to Toskala's 25... that's a 93.5 SV% compared to a 83.3 SV %... just sayin'.
The Sharks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets this Thursday at the HP Pavilion, in their second game of a 5-night homestand.
The sign below summarizes how I currently feel.