Like clockwork, dominant teams from across the National Hockey League this season have confidently ventured to California for a three-game road swing only to be repeatedly clobbered and put in their place. After losing 5-2 in Anaheim on Tuesday and 4-2 to the Kings on Thursday, the Boston Bruins appeared to be well on their way to befalling the same fate before the Sharks let them off the hook tonight. Carl Soderberg scored the game's only goal twelve minutes into the third period as San Jose was shut out for just the second time this season and lost in regulation on home ice for only the second time as well.
Despite the final score, this was an exciting game between two talented and physical hockey teams and, much like when these clubs met in Boston earlier in the season, it was a game the Sharks controlled through forty minutes of play. San Jose was tight defensively, allowing just four scoring chances through two periods, and the Joe Thornton line laid waste to the David Krejci line, rendering Boston's top offensive trio a non-factor at even-strength. But things fell apart a bit for the Sharks in the third period, with two penalty kills putting the team on their heels for much of the frame's first half, and, ultimately, the Bruins' superior depth won out as their third line manufactured the winner.
Considering the injuries the Sharks are dealing with up front at the moment, it's hard to be too disappointed with that result, especially since Tuukka Rask, as he did against the Sharks in October, came up huge for the Bruins with a 26-save shutout. Preventing, as San Jose did, the top forwards on arguably the East's best team from having much of an impact is a testament to how strong the Sharks' top six remains even in the face of injuries to Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl. But their bottom six stinks right now, and that was duly exposed by Boston's strong third line which dictated play against the likes of Bracken Kearns and Andrew Desjardins all night, eventually victimizing them for the winning goal off a bit of a flukey bounce.
- A somewhat under-the-radar story is that Dan Boyle was relegated to third-pairing duty at even-strength tonight as he skated with Scott Hannan throughout the game and finished dead last among Sharks blueliners in 5-on-5 ice time. That isn't something we've seen since the first season of the McLellan era and it's likely a response to the veteran defenseman's recent struggles. Over the ten games before this one, the Sharks earned just 44.8% of all shot attempts with Boyle on the ice five-aside.
- Granted, I'm not sold Dan Boyle: Third-Pairing Defenseman is going to be a long-term experiment. That said, Justin Braun and Brad Stuart had maybe their best game as a tandem. After his only real mistake of the night, bobbling the puck at the offensive blueline, Braun made terrific use of his skating ability to break up two ensuing would-be chances before Brad Marchand and Jarome Iginla could even pull the trigger. Stuart was also present.
- In fairness, as much as I'm not a fan of the season he's having, I don't think Stuart was a total passenger in that pairing's success. He was using the boards effectively to advance the puck and generally operating within his comfort zone on the breakout. When he ventures outside of that is when terrible things tend to happen.
- With his 21-for-22 performance, Antti Niemi's season save percentage is back to league average. I'm still confident he'll finish the year somewhere around his career average of .916. It's easy to overreact to small samples when it comes to goaltending, and there's no doubt Niemi has had a poor month and a half, but it's just so hard to separate signal from noise when it comes to evaluating these guys that you're usually better off looking at the bigger picture.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Tuukka Rask
2nd Star: Antti Niemi
3rd Star: Carl Soderberg