Despite the myriad questions facing the Sharks heading into this truncated season, ranging from their lack of forward depth to their miserable penalty kill to their aging core, there was one area of their game that was unquestionably brilliant: the power play. No team has generated more shots per minute on the man advantage than the Sharks in each of the past three seasons, as a top unit featuring Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau regularly makes short work of opposing penalty killers. Unsurprisingly, that trend has continued so far in 2013. Boyle, Marleau and Couture all scored power play goals as San Jose turned a 6-1 first period lead into a 6-3 victory over the Edmonton Oilers.
The narrative that will likely be crafted, if it hasn't already been, about those final two periods will refer to how the young Oilers found their legs and showed grit and determination to rebound after a lackluster first twenty minutes. It's bullshit. With the exception of Detroit, every single team in the NHL last year was outshot 5v5 even when nursing a two-goal lead, much less a five-goal one. It shouldn't exactly be surprising that teams gauge incentives differently depending on the score; the Sharks are much better off maintaining their insurmountable lead than attempting to extend it and risk getting burned on a counterattack. Five minor penalties, including a combination that put the Sharks on a 3-on-5 penalty kill, certainly contributed to a disappointing final forty as well.
- Can't help but think Oilers coach Ralph Krueger screwed the pooch with his forward deployment. Let's look at the first period, which was pretty clearly when this game was lost for Edmonton. Shawn Horcoff's line played just two measly even-strength shifts against the Thornton line yet the Oilers outchanced the Sharks 1-0 in those minutes. In all other even-strength situations combined, the Sharks outchanced Edmonton 8-0. Infinitesimally small sample sizes and all that, but it was pretty obvious heading into the game that Todd McLellan would try to sic Thornton on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Sam Gagner whenever possible. He did, and it worked splendidly.
- Everything about that first Marleau goal was beautiful and further proof that the Sharks' top line is one of the best in hockey. The marvelous interchange between Thornton and Pavelski in the neutral zone, the expert luring of both Oiler defensemen below the goal line and the filthy feed from Jumbo into the slot to Marleau. That was awesome.
- You know what wasn't awesome (again)? The penalty kill. Hard to really fault anyone on Justin Schultz's 5-on-3 tally, especially when the interference call on Marc-Edouard Vlasic was questionable to say the least. But both Douglas Murray and Adam Burish failed to cut off the backdoor play to Nail Yakupov on his goal in the first. It's disheartening because that's exactly the kind of mistake the Sharks routinely made shorthanded last season.
- If there was a bright spot to the penalty kill, it was the play of Brad Stuart. He was great at identifying appropriate pressure points and was once again effective in front of his own net.
- I also really liked Justin Braun's game at even-strength, particularly in the defensive zone. He's had to carry Douglas Murray a bit so far (which, as we saw last season, isn't really an enviable task these days) and has performed well.
- Martin Havlat had six shots on goal (and another two shot attempts) tonight. He looked incredibly dangerous whenever he had the puck.
- Fuck Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins. Taylor Hall is Edmonton's best player whether their fanbase and mainstream media acknowledge it or not.
- Hopefully no one is surprised by Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz scoring their first NHL goals against the Sharks.
- Maybe I'm biased, but the fourth line looked a lot better with James Sheppard on it, did it not?
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Patrick Marleau
2nd Star: Joe Thornton
3rd Star: Logan Couture
Two games, two wins. At the end of the day, that dominant first period should be the Sharks' primary takeaway from tonight's game. They'll need a similar effort when they face a better team in the Coyotes on Thursday for the home opener. Go Sharks.