Despite their number one defenseman, starting goaltender and two-thirds of their third line being out of the lineup with various injuries, the Sharks posted one of their more impressive performances of the season in outshooting the Minnesota Wild 30-19 en route to a 2-1 win over one of the best teams in hockey. It wasn't quite a perfect game for San Jose as they were sloppy early on and surrendered three separate 2-on-1 breaks by the middle of the second period but chances off the rush were essentially all the Wild could muster in this game as the Sharks owned the puck for much of the night.
Brent Burns blasted a one-timer past Darcy Kuemper on the power play to open the scoring against his former team while Joe Pavelski finished off a pretty passing play with Joe Thornton early in the third period, just 45 seconds after the Wild had tied the game on a Christian Folin point shot, for the game-winner. With Vlasic, the Sharks' best blueliner by several country miles, missing his first game of the season, young defensemen Mirco Mueller, Matt Tennyson and Brenden Dillon were called upon to assume larger roles in which all three thrived to varying extents. Tennyson was a positive contributor to the second power play unit, Dillon carried the puck into the zone leading to the Pavelski goal and Mueller played a confident, aggressive game on the back end even if it burned him a few times.
The influx of young forwards up front due to injuries suffered by Matt Nieto, Tyler Kennedy and Mike Brown over the past week were every bit as impressive as the defensemen. Melker Karlsson had a second straight solid game at right wing while Barclay Goodrow was reliable in all three zones, even blocking shots late in the third to preserve the lead after breaking his stick in the defensive zone. Chris Tierney, in his return to the big leagues after a 12-game stint in Worcester, was his usual cerebral self on the fourth line. It was going to take a team effort for the Sharks to beat the NHL's second-best possession team in the Wild but that's what San Jose got and it's encouraging stuff as the Sharks move into a tie with Calgary for third in the Pacific, two points behind second-place Vancouver.
- Despite only facing 19 shots, Alex Stalock was terrific in net when he needed to be (again, the Sharks gave up three clean 2-on-1 breaks) but his most important play of the night may have been on the man advantage. Stalock intercepted a weak clearing effort by Erik Haula and sent the puck up ice, forcing the Wild's four tired penalty killers to stay on as the Sharks' first unit regained the offensive zone. Joe Thornton dished it to the point for Justin Braun who promptly set up Burns for the opening goal.
- Speaking of Thornton, his two assists tonight give him 1,220 for his career, surpassing the late, great Jean Beliveau on the all-time scoring list.
- And one last note on the power play: the way Braun and Tennyson worked the points for the second unit tonight was such a massive upgrade on what Vlasic and Matt Irwin have been providing in that role for much of the season. When Vlasic returns from injury, there's no reason for him to be given power play time over Braun. Save Pickles for even-strength minutes where can actually make a difference.
- Tierney is a smart player. There was a shift in the second period where he forced roughly four giveaways just from knowing where to position himself on the ice at all times. A fourth line of Goodrow, Tierney and Kennedy when everyone is healthy would be fun to watch even if it's completely wishful thinking.
- Had a note about Mirco Mueller's aggressive defending in the recap for the Edmonton game. That burned him on a couple of occasions tonight, leading to two 2-on-1s after a misread in the neutral zone and an ill-advised offensive zone pinch. That's definitely something he'll want to fix but when a grizzled veteran like Scott Hannan is making those same mistakes, it's hard to judge Mueller too harshly.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Joe Thornton
2nd Star: Brent Burns
3rd Star: Alex Stalock