After a game in Minnesota which the San Jose Sharks lacked intensity for the first fifty minutes a solid, determined effort is exactly what the Sharks needed.
That's exactly what they got.
Although the game remained scoreless until the second period, battles were fought, positions were won and the anger of coaches and fans was quelled, at least for an evening. The Sharks played what I consider one of their best games all season, and while it came against one of the league's weaker teams, the effort level was undeniable.
Every line clicked tonight, whether it was Joe Thornton making creative passes and dominating the offensive zone with his linemates, or Logan Couture and his group getting in the right positions to create offense. The third line of Michal Handzus, Jamie McGinn and Torrey Mitchell delivered a strong performance, forechecking to perfection on some shifts. Finally, the fourth line, complete with Manitoba native Andrew Murray, contributed positive play and a goal.
The Sharks led the physical game in hits 28-19, a rare feat this season, thanks mostly in part to Douglas Murray, who was a man possessed to check. They crushed Winnipeg in the face-off dot, winning almost 66% of the draws. They blocked more shots, put more pucks on net... the Sharks truly were the dominant team.
What's most impressive to me is the way that they prevented shots tonight, allowing only 24 in total and just six (six!) in the third period with Winnipeg fighting to get back into the game. Another crazy shot-based stat? How about this: In two shorthanded situations, the Sharks surrendered just three shots against.
Let's get to the goal scoring though. The first goal was a beautiful play, practically the epitome of what the Sharks wanted to see from Brent Burns when they traded for him in the offseason. Burns led the rush and streaked into the zone, put the puck in a place where he could retrieve it, used his size, speed and strength to beat a defender and then looked up to find Logan Couture, in excellent offensive position as he usually is. Burns hit the newly-minted all-star forward with a beautiful pass which Couture put past Ondrej Pavelec.
Pavelec played well tonight, but was victimized a second time by San Jose in the third period. This time the fourth line held the zone and moved the puck around the net to Brad Winchester who put the puck home to continue his stellar campaign with San Jose. Although some (including myself) pooh-poohed the move in the offseason, he's been a revelation on the fourth line.
Pavelec's opposing netminder, Antti Niemi, was good but not as great as his shutout would suggest. He stopped 24 shots, but gave up some rather frightening rebounds and was bailed out by a sound defensive effort. However, when the Sharks have needed him this season to bail out the defense, he's been up to the task. Tonight, the defense returned the favor.
Not much more to say about the game tonight, only that I hope there are more like this going forward.