Given the tumultuous roller coaster that has been the Sharks' 2013 season, it's easy to forget that the team has rattled off some pretty impressive single-period showings throughout the year. There was the six-goal first period outburst in Edmonton during the first week of the season. There was a dominant three-goal effort against the Anaheim Ducks over the first twenty minutes of the Sharks' most successful homestand. San Jose even previously posted a four-goal third period against the very Coyotes club they faced tonight, erasing a two-goal deficit to win that game.
None of those compare to the utter domination that was on display during the second period tonight in Phoenix. Seemingly controlling the puck for the entirety of the stanza, the Sharks outshot the Coyotes 24-7, outchanced them 15-2 and outscored them 3-0 during those twenty minutes of hockey. It was more than enough to render lackluster first and third period efforts meaningless and inch the Sharks that much closer to clinching their ninth consecutive playoff berth.
Following a first period characterized by a series of defensive-zone turnovers and coverage miscues, the Sharks took the ice in the second period alternately attacking the Coyotes blueline with speed and setting up an effective forecheck. After Jason LaBarbera turned away quality opportunities from the slot by Martin Havlat, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle he finally kicked out the rebound of a Jason Demers attempt midway through the period that drifted right to Logan Couture who easily converted what would hold up as the game-winner. Minutes later, Tommy Wingels recovered the puck off a lost offensive-zone faceoff and shoveled a backhand past an unprepared LaBarbera. Joe Pavelski hammered the nail in the coffin of both this game and, in all likelihood, the Coyotes' season on a partial 2-on-1 break.
It's unrealistic to expect the Sharks to sustain the level of performance they provided in the second period tonight over any significant stretch. Unsurprisingly, given that they were protecting a three-goal lead, the Sharks failed to generate any semblance of offense in the third while giving Antti Niemi quite the workout although another hilarious LaBarbera misplay gave Matt Irwin a power play goal near the end of the game. Still, when this contest and a chance to both bury a division rival and solidify a playoff spot was on the line, the Sharks didn't just step on the Coyotes' necks. They tore off one of Shane Doan's limbs and bludgeoned the rest of the team to death with his elbow. (Metaphorically, of course). If that isn't a good sign heading into the playoffs, I don't know what is.
- It seems like we say this every time Martin Havlat is shuffled onto a different line only to watch his effectiveness gradually dissipate, but he's looked excellent alongside Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture through two games. He supports the play so well at both ends of the rink and his puck skills are essentially unmatched on the Sharks; it's always nice to have him dialed in.
- Speaking of Marleau, show the next person to tell you he never uses his speed footage of him beating out an icing call to set up Demers for the play that turned into the Couture goal. It won't make a difference since the anti-Marleau crowd is impervious to facts but, whatever, show it to them anyway.
- The returns were relatively unchanged but the Sharks did seem to be employing a more aggressive forecheck when protecting the lead tonight compared to their usual setup. That's something to watch for as we head towards the postseason; if there's an Achilles' heel to this team, as counterintuitive as it sounds, it's their performance when leading. It's probably not ridiculous to suggest the coaching staff sees this as an area to shore up too.
- Phoenix really has something in relatively no-name checking forwards Boyd Gordon and Rob Klinkhammer. Or they will until July 1st, anyway, when both players are slated to become unrestricted free agents. Along with David Moss, those two have been kicking in the teeth of some tough competition and were once again positive possession players tonight despite starting twice as often in the defensive zone and drawing the Couture line as their primary matchup.
- Joe Pavelski had a really strong game in the circle, going 14 for 20 overall and an impressive 8 for 10 in the defensive zone.
- Oliver-Ekman Larsson seals off the boards as well as any defenseman currently in the league, particularly now that Nicklas Lidstrom is retired. He'd be my Norris vote if I had a ballot.
- On a related note, the "WTF?" moment of the 2013 season goes to OEL and Adam Burish either participating in an impromptu yoga lesson or attempting to act out Andrew Desjardins' sweater number from last season. Kudos to Ann for her gif magic:
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Antti Niemi
2nd Star: Logan Couture
3rd Star: Tommy Wingels