It's always struck me as a bit of a pointless battle to rail against poor officiating in the NHL. Theoretically, the bad calls even out over the course of a season and, despite the protestations of tinfoil hat-touting Red Wings fans, there is no systematic bias against certain teams. But sometimes a call is so awful and has such far-reaching implications on the outcome of a game that it can't be ignored.
Mark Fistric wasn't interfered with by Ryane Clowe at the Oilers' blueline four minutes into the third period tonight. He fell over while attempting to stay with the onrushing Clowe, who settled and snapped the puck past Devan Dubnyk. Absurdly, that wasn't how Paul Devorski saw things and instead of taking a 3-2 third period lead, the Sharks found themselves killing a penalty at a critical juncture of the game.
Mercifully, that kill was successful and the Sharks went on to win their seventh straight on yet another Michal Handzus shootout winner (it's not real hockey, so he isn't terrible at it) to remain undefeated. Also for the second consecutive contest, this team found a way to eke out a victory despite what was a pretty mediocre showing through two periods. Edmonton clearly outplayed the Sharks in the neutral zone early as the likes of Taylor Hall and Ales Hemsky used their speed and puck skills to exploit San Jose's conservative defensive setup and create scoring chances. The Oilers outshot the Sharks 11-7 in the first and, despite yielding some grade-A chances to Martin Havlat and Scott Gomez, they were full value for those numbers. But buoyed by two fortunate goals off Oilers turnovers in the second period, including one by Couture that preceded a full-fledged Colin Kaepernick homage, San Jose eventually stormed back to carry play in the latter stages of the third period and particularly in overtime.
- Gomez is incredibly effective at gaining the offensive zone with possession and was the only reason that Couture goal happened. His reward? A whopping 39 seconds of even-strength ice time in the third period while plugs like James Sheppard, Andrew Desjardins and Adam Burish skated shifts with the top three lines. It's only been four games, but Gomez has been thoroughly misused so far in his Sharks career.
- Honestly, Sheppard didn't even look all that awful. He's a poor man's Torrey Mitchell who could probably be useful in a fourth-line role. He just has no business playing on an NHL team's second line and there's absolutely no sense in sitting T.J. Galiardi to include him in the lineup.
- Matt Irwin got spun around pretty good on that Hall goal but I thought he acquitted himself well in his other battles with the Oilers' #4, who's really one of the best players in the NHL already. At times, it seemed like Irwin was the only Sharks defenseman interested in contesting Edmonton wingers at the blueline.
- The lines were all jumbled up by the end of this one. At one point in the third, the Sharks were running lines of Marleau, Thornton and Burish; Sheppard, Couture and Clowe; Desjardins, Handzus and Havlat; and, for that one solitary shift, Wingels/Gomez/Pavelski. What?
- Of course, far be it from me to complain about a formula that seemed to work. San Jose outshot Edmonton 13-6 in that final frame and had several chances to win it late, albeit after the Marleau/Thornton/Pavelski line was solidly reformed.
- At what point does Antti Niemi surpass Marleau as this team's MVP? He was brilliant again tonight.
- The power play will be fine. It generated seven chances tonight. Obviously they weren't going to click at 33% or whatever absurdly high efficiency rate they were at forever.
- Only Handzus and Frans Nielsen have conversion rates above 50% among players who have taken more than 30 career shootout attempts. Michal Handzus is the best at something in NHL history. That's incredible.
- The Sharks had eleven shot attempts in a row at one point during that OT period.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Devan Dubnyk
2nd Star: Taylor Hall
3rd Star: Antti Niemi
Oh yeah, the penalty kill is pretty good now too apparently. I wasn't even aware teams were allowed to go a full week without giving up a power play goal. Go Sharks.