Against all odds, Joe Thornton's 1200th NHL point was a goal and not an assist like the 857 he's artfully crafted over the course of his Hall Of Fame-worthy career, including for his previous five points on the season. It was an empty-netter met with little fanfare from the Prudential Center crowd who were largely already scrambling for the exits at the end of a 4-2 Sharks win over New Jersey but it served as another reminder that, for all the misplaced criticism Thornton has taken over his career from the media, fans and, most recently, his own general manager, he's really, freakishly good at hockey.
Another guy who's really good at hockey, and the only active player in the NHL with more than 1200 career points, skated against Thornton and the Sharks tonight. Jaromir Jagr did just about everything he could to get the Devils a win in their home opener as New Jersey controlled 70% of puck possession with the 42-year-old on the ice five aside while Jagr individually carried the puck into the offensive zone on 6 of his 7 attempts to. He set up a Mike Cammalleri one-timer goal that initiated a brief third period comeback effort by New Jersey but the majority of the scoring chances Jagr generated for himself and his teammates were smothered by an on-his-game Antti Niemi, like this one from Adam Henrique.
Niemi's 35 saves and an exceptional performance on special teams allowed the Sharks to, once again, gain standings points from a game in which they struggled to control play at even-strength. Botched attempts to exit the defensive zone compounded tonight, preventing the Sharks from generating any semblance of speed through the neutral zone and forcing them to settle for dump-ins or flat-out dump-and-get-a-line-change plays rather than sustained offensive attack. New Jersey is notorious for their ability to bottle teams up in middle ice but this is a trend that's plagued the Sharks for much of this young season and it's one they'll need to reverse if they want to continue piling up wins.
- This was easily the best the Sharks' third line has looked since the season opener in Los Angeles and quite possibly the best game of Chris Tierney's career to date. I hesitate to draw the comparison because it's patently unfair but the 20-year-old center can be a bit Patrice Bergeron-esque in his ability to anticipate the play and intercept passes at will. That happened a couple of times tonight and it led to scoring chances on both occasions. Get Tierney and Tommy Wingels a better left wing than Tye McGinn (like, say, James Sheppard) and you might have something there.
- Not entirely sure why the Sharks would make their fourth-best defenseman in Jason Demers a healthy scratch for the privilege of pairing Matt Irwin and Scott Hannan. Maybe Demers is nursing an injury or maybe the organization is furious at him for revealing the secret behind his mysterious nickname yesterday on NHL Live. We may never know.
- As revolting as a pairing of Irwin and Hannan looks on paper, they weren't the Sharks' worst defensive tandem tonight. No, that honor goes to Mirco Mueller and Brent Burns who made poor decisions with the puck in all three zones and had a dreadful time containing the Jagr line in front of the San Jose net. I know most are high on the kid but Mueller has looked a bit exposed to me apart from the game against L.A. It would probably benefit him to spend a few games with Justin Braun rather than the guy who hasn't regularly played defense since early 2012.
- Good to see the Sharks back to their old tricks on the power play after the disaster against Winnipeg last week. It's not just the two goals but the fact that they generated eight shots on goal (four scoring chances) in a little over five minutes. After the inexplicable decision to have Marc-Edouard Vlasic quarterback the top unit at the beginning of the season, the coaching staff has finally come to their senses in terms of personnel and it's paying off. It's always exciting to watch when the Sharks use puck-movement cues to transition from an umbrella into an overload setup like they did on the Couture goal.
- Speaking of Couture, he took just three of his line's 13 faceoffs tonight as Marleau went 8-for-10 in the circle. That won't do much to quell the speculation that Couture is still hampered by the hand injury he underwent offseason surgery to repair. Despite the three-point night, he hasn't been an effective five-on-five player so far this season and I'll bet a lingering injury has something to do with that.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Antti Niemi
2nd Star: Jaromir Jagr
3rd Star: Patrick Marleau