After spending nearly an entire month losing close games courtesy unexpectedly elite opposition goaltending, consistently unfavorable bounces and a bottom six devoid of scoring ability, the Sharks turned the tables in their 3-2 shootout win over Vancouver. They were outright dominated by the Canucks for the first two periods of this game but one of Antti Niemi's best performances of a marquee season and an improved showing in the third period allowed the Sharks to skate away with a crucial, if not entirely merited, two points.
Niemi stopped 36 of 38 shots, including all 10 that he faced shorthanded, Jason Garrison's blast from the right point with less than a minute remaining hit iron and San Jose's offense came via goals by Scott Gomez (yes, that Scott Gomez) and Adam Burish (again, that Burish) to stake the team to a win that puts them in a three-way tie for 4th in the conference with the Kings and Red Wings and gives them the chance to close the gap on the division-leading Ducks to five points with a win in Calgary tomorrow.
On the one hand, given the degree to which the Canucks dominated this game through forty minutes and the chances they continued to create on a dangerous-looking power play through the final frame and into overtime, they deserved to win tonight. On the other, it's hard to say any NHL team that allows a goal by Scott Gomez deserves to win a hockey game. While this was a lackluster effort by the Sharks outside of stretches in the third period, they've been on the other end of this outcome far too often this season to care.
- Just an ugly sequence of events leading to the Canucks' first goal. Daniel Sedin and Alexandre Burrows isolate Dan Boyle down the left side because that's what talented forwards do but Boyle takes far too long to recognize that Burrows is no longer in a dangerous shooting area should Daniel pass him the puck. He's too late to block the centering feed, Joe Thornton completely abandons his man in front of the net and Henrik calmly knocks the puck past Niemi.
- The second goal might have been even worse. Ryane Clowe turns the puck over for no reason in the neutral zone, allowing the Canucks an easy entry. Douglas Murray eventually achieves possession but a terrible attempt at a zone exit predictably fails. Tim Kennedy isn't strong enough on the puck to prevent Dan Hamhuis from cutting to the middle, rather than playing defense Murray opts to drill Hamhuis after the Canucks blueliner has already made a play to Mason Raymond and our old friend Clowe has been watching the puck the whole time, leaving poor Patrick Marleau to somehow simultaneously neutralize both Raymond and Jannik Hansen. It doesn't work. It's 2-2.
- These mistakes wouldn't be all that concerning in isolation but the fact that the Sharks were repeatedly allowing scoring chances as a result of conservative defensive-zone coverage that involved giving the Canucks, particularly the Sedin twins, far too much time to operate was certainly reason for concern. To their credit, they cleaned up a lot of their play, particularly in terms of exiting the defensive zone cleanly, in the third period.
- Moments like this come around once in a lifetime, so let's relive Scott Gomez's first (and, in all likelihood, only) goal as a San Jose Shark:
- At this point, I think Murray loses his stick while killing penalties on purpose, for the added challenge.
- In all seriousness, the penalty kill was bizarrely antithetical to the Sharks' even-strength play throughout this game. Through the first two periods, the PK looked tremendously effective, collapsing down low to deny the Canucks options and consistently getting the puck out after wresting back possession. Then in the third, when the Sharks largely cleaned up their play at evens, the PK devolved into 2011-12-caliber porousness, leaning heavily on Niemi the rest of the way.
- Speaking of the penalty kill, I'm not exactly sure why Alain Vigneault isn't using Jason Garrison on his power play.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Antti Niemi
2nd Star: Henrik Sedin
3rd Star: Chris Tanev
There's certainly a lot for the Sharks to improve on heading into Calgary tomorrow but winning games is better than losing them (analysis!) and, to that end, the team did as well as they could have expected. Go Sharks.