It might be impossible to fathom but, for the first time this season, a hockey team played a hockey game without its three worst players and looked more impressive than it has in well over a calendar year.
With Michal Handzus and Adam Burish marinating in the press box and Douglas Murray likely introducing UPenn students to the wonders of the UberTap, the San Jose Sharks not only shitcanned the Ducks 4-0, thereby sweeping their home-and-home series with Anaheim, but were more dominant in the process than they've been all season long. Icing a blueline finally comprised by three mobile pairs, the Sharks advanced the puck more efficiently tonight than they ever have in 2013. Deploying four lines of scoring, including a top six featuring burners Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns, Martin Havlat and Tommy Wingels, San Jose attacked the opposing defense with more speed than we've seen at the Tank since the days of Nils Ekman putting his linemates offside every other shift.
And as long as we're discussing occurrences that have been rare in Sharks Territory over the recent past, the team scored goals. Four of them, in fact, including a wraparound by Captain America, a one-timer from the slot by Patrick Marleau, a blast by Brent Burns on the power play and a beautiful shorthanded tally by Tommy Wingels.
Let's talk about Wingels for a second, who had by far the best game of his NHL career on a line with Marleau and Logan Couture that seemingly had the potential to create an odd-man rush every time they stepped over the boards. In addition to scoring a goal and adding two assists, Wingels was on the ice for ten of the Sharks' fifteen scoring chances in this game while being his usual puck-hounding presence on the forecheck. Our little Tommy is all grown up.
It's important to put a win like this into its proper perspective as the Sharks have rarely been able to string together efforts like this one since the season's first week. But given the fact that the long-awaited lineup changes finally enacted by the coaching staff had pretty much exactly the impact anyone could have expected and that the shooting regression fairies appear to finally be paying San Jose a visit, it's difficult for even the most jaded of onlookers not to have some modicum of optimism that this season might not end up the unbridled garbage fire it was shaping up to be. A team justifiably criticized for lacking the skating ability to keep pace in today's NHL answered, at least for one night, a good portion of its critics. The trick, both for the players and the coaching staff, is going to be in replicating this performance down the stretch.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Tommy Wingels
2nd Star: Joe Pavelski
3rd Star: Patrick Marleau
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that two perfect gentlemen decided earlier this year to spend the remainder of their playing careers in Anaheim based on the perfectly sound reasoning that a team being woefully outshot every night yet escaping with close victories would surely be a dominant force in the NHL for the next decade. Let's check in with those intelligent and mature young men.