For most of this season, the Calgary Flames have been winning games in which they've been thoroughly outplayed. Tonight, the Sharks returned the favor. Despite a dismal first period featuring a ton of permissive defensive play at their own blueline and an inability to generate much at the other end of the rink, San Jose improved as the game went along and ended up winning their fourth straight in regulation courtesy a third period goal by Patrick Marleau.
An early injury to Tyler Kennedy threw the Sharks' bottom six into flux for most of the evening but even their top forwards struggled through the first frame. The Flames used their speed and puck skills to exploit San Jose through the neutral zone and launch 25 shot attempts to the Sharks' 15 (five of which came in the final minute) over the course of the first period. But two quick goals by San Jose to start the second, Justin Braun's first of the year off an aggressive offensive-zone forecheck followed by a filthy Logan Couture backhander created inexplicably by a strong hockey play from John Scott, seemed to wake the team up and led to a much better effort from there on out.
It was far from the Sharks' best performance of the season, as they needed highlight-reel Antti Niemi saves on Johnny Gaudreau, Markus Granlund and David Jones to escape with the two points and nearly blew the game when Matt Irwin concluded a wasted 5-on-3 with an egregious giveaway to T.J. Brodie, but it's a regulation win over a division rival San Jose continues to chase in the standings so, honestly, who cares? They'll probably have to play better than this tomorrow to avoid embarrassment against an Oilers team desperate for a win but, for now, the Sharks have their first four-game winning streak of the season and are well on their way back to playoff position.
- Tommy Wingels is having a hell of a post-breakout breakout season. With another two assists tonight he now has nine points in his last four games and is on pace for a 59-point season. He, Couture and Marleau have worked really well together of late but a third line later on in the season of Sheppard centering Wingels and Raffi Torres could inflict some real damage.
- Marleau's 444th career goal tied Daniel Alfredsson for 60th all time. He's currently tied for first on the Sharks in scoring (25th in the NHL) despite an 8% shooting percentage that falls well shy of his career 13.6% mark. As that regresses, this should easily be another 70-plus point season for Marleau while driving play against opposing top lines. How he and Thornton are still this good at 35 is a mystery.
- Irwin and Scott Hannan were a surprisingly effective pair in the latter stages of the homestand but that house of cards completely collapsed in on itself tonight. With Hannan on the ice at even-strength, the Sharks generated just eight shot attempts while surrendering 23. One of them, probably Irwin, should sit tomorrow in favor of Mirco Mueller who's gaining nothing by marinating in the press box.
- Never thought I'd type these words but that was a really good game by John Scott and Mike Brown who were called upon to take on a bigger role once Kennedy went down. Scott's work pressuring Raphael Diaz on the forecheck set up Couture's goal while Brown had five shot attempts. Obviously don't expect this to be a regular thing but good to see them step up when the team needed more from a depleted bottom six.
- Kennedy was seen leaving the arena with his arm in a sling and isn't expected to play tomorrow in Edmonton. If Nieto can't go either, a game against the last-place team in the league who have lost eleven straight and have yet to beat a Western Conference opponent could be more challenging than expected.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Logan Couture
2nd Star: Patrick Marleau
3rd Star: Johnny Gaudreau