The San Jose Sharks dropped an egg in the first fifty minutes of play, only to come back with three goals in 2:56 to narrow the deficit to one. Alas it was not enough, as the New Jersey Devils won both teams first game back from the Olympic break by a score of 4-3.
The first period started off rather well for the Sharks, with Joe Thornton taking advantage of a porous defensive breakdown by New Jersey and ringing one off the post; Patrick Marleau followed up a shift later, taking a nice pass from Dany Heatley that Brodeur managed to stop with his glove.
Up until Kent Huskins' penalty, Nabokov was relatively untested. I thought the entire unit did a good job of keeping the Devils forwards to the outside and forcing them to dump the puck in on that power play. It was a relatively easy kill with lots of clears that chewed up time, and lots of pressure on the puck carrier as he entered the zone.
I have to say, ol' Planker has really taken the PK for granted this season. That unit has been lights out from October until now.
Up until the middle of the second it was more of the same, with some solid zone possession time and decent opportunities. And when I say decent, I mean they were better then what New Jersey was throwing at Nabokov. Both teams looked out of synch for the first half of the game, and as Randy and Drew mentioned on the telecast, the Olympic players were the only ones who really looked like they came to play.
I will say this though-- Marleau didn't have a very good defensive game by his standards. He mangled a breakout pass up the middle that led to a very good Devils scoring opportunity, failed to communicate with Douglas Murray on the Zajac goal that made it 4-0, and pinched right down the middle of the offensive end a shift or two after the Sharks cut the lead to 4-3 with eight minutes to go. At that time Dan Boyle had jumped into the play low in the zone and Ilya Kovalchuk was on the ice. That's one he would like to have back obviously, and even though Nabokov made a save on the semi-breakaway (Boyle managed to get back and apply some decent pressure on the backcheck), you have to be aware of who is out there. With the crowd buzzing following a comeback, that goal buries your chances at clawing your way back in.
At any rate, ten minutes into the second period is when shit hit the fan. Boyle fanned on a pass in the offensive zone, and a 2 on 2 developed. The puck squeeked past Nabokov and lay on the doorstep where Daniel Zubrus pounced on it and jammed it home. On that play I would like Huskins to take a man out of the crease-- he got bodied out of position by Patrik Elias (!!!) on the ensuing crease crash. He's obviously is not at fault for that goal, but there was an opportunity there for him to clear some space and hold the fort for Nabokov to track down the puck.
Yada yada, Devils go up four-nothing. Sharks back on their heels.
Speaking of Nabokov; there were definitely some goals he would like to have back tonight, and I know I'm not alone (sup TCY) in wondering if that loss to Canada on the big stage messed a bit with his head. He changed his mask (possibly unrelated, but who knows anymore) and didn't seem to have the same aura of invincibility he took into the Olympic break. Way too early to call this one obviously, but something to keep your eye on as the season progresses.
I thought Niclas Wallin looked pretty good, and it's apparent that a week of practice with the team has helped out his game a bit. McLellan was alternating he and Huskins with Boyle for a good part of the night, and I think Wallin definitely takes the cake in comparison. That being said, is he really the answer on the top pairing? I don't think so.
McLellan also broke up HTML in the third period, putting Devin Setoguchi with Thornton and Heatley on the first line. It's something I've advocated for the better part of the year, and if/when secondary scoring starts to become an issue, it's definitely a move we will see more of. I doubt McLellan starts off Thursday night's game by splitting the trio up, but it paid off dividends tonight.
Ryan Clowe, non-factor. Torrey Mitchell, non-factor. During the first period I actually turned to my buddy and mentioned how bad Ryan Kesler looked, then realized that was the wrong number 17 and teared up a little bit. Mitchell hasn't made an impact on a game this entire year really, but at this point we might be stuck with him. Not a whole lot of value there.
That's really picking the low hanging fruit though-- I don't think any of the bottom line players made all that much of an impact tonight. Nichol dished out some decent hits, McGinn had a couple too, Ortmeyer was there I guess. In all honesty, I think Brad Staubitz probably had the best game relative to my expectations, which is surprising because I've never been a huge fan of his.
I think a lot of us think of Clowe and Staubitz as young prospects, when in reality, they are 27 and 25 respectively. They should be either entering or in their prime right now.
Back to Ryan Clowe though-- I understand he's had a pretty decent offensive year compared to last year, but man alive, he's basically Joe Thornton without the hands or vision. I mentioned how Thornton's game is really one dimensional off the rush in the RUS-CAN Olympic recap, and mentioned Clowe's at the beginning of this season as well, and nothing has really changed. I don't know why I keep expecting it to.
There were about three or four wacky bounces off the boards behind the Sharks attacking side (Section 107). Don't know what was going on there, looking like a cross between Joe Louis Arena and the Cow Palace. Murray lit up David Clarkson late in the game, basically just saw him at the end line and hucked him into the boards. That was pretty sweet.
I kind of forgot about Dean McAmmond this year, but it was nice to see him out there again-- always been a big fan of the journeyman forward, nice lower line guy who's versatile as all hell. Also, San Jose won a faceoff draw at one point in the game and Rob Blake tried to clear it around the boards only to have it go right into the twine beside Nabokov.