San Jose entered tonight's game against the Edmonton Oilers needing to just about run the table over their six remaining games in order to catch the Anaheim Ducks atop the Pacific Division standings and thereby avoid the Kings in the first round of the playoffs. So far, so good, I suppose, since a 5-4 come-from-behind win in a back-and-forth affair gives the Sharks the two points they needed and hoists them to just one point behind Anaheim (although the Ducks still have two games in hand).
But it's a good thing the standings are determined by quantity and not quality because that was about as ugly a win as it gets. Against an awful opponent, the Sharks were sloppy defensively, spent too much time in their own end, and received a very poor performance from goaltender Antti Niemi. The top line was missing in action for the first two periods and the third line spent the vast majority of their shifts hemmed in the defensive zone. If it wasn't for a singularly dominant shift by Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns midway through the third—the kind we hadn't seen from that trio since the win over Anaheim nearly two weeks ago—which ended with Pavelski literally kicking the puck to Thornton who fed Burns at the edge of the crease, followed by the power play finally cashing in after looking dangerous all night, this would have been another blown opportunity on home ice against an inferior club, much like the Sharks' 4-3 loss to Winnipeg last Thursday.
Fortunately, the Oilers are listless enough that the Sharks were able to get away with one of their weaker efforts of the season. That surely won't be the case in the playoffs, whether San Jose draws Los Angeles or, as tonight's win makes slightly more likely, a wild card team.
- On a more positive note, the fourth line unsurprisingly looks markedly better with Tyler Kennedy on it rather than Adam Burish. Andrew Desjardins' game-opening goal was a wonderful demonstration of the Sharks' offensive-zone forecheck working; Kennedy covered for a pinching Jason Demers, kept the puck in at the right point then skated his way to a shooting location, the rebound of which Desjardins deposited. That line may have been the Sharks' best which is as much an indictment of the team's play in this one as anything.
- Marty Havlat, Mike Brown and Matt Nieto (although he had a brief stint on the Thornton line) all rode the pine for much of the third period as the three forwards received just 3:08, 1:08 and 2:44 of ice time in the final frame. The result was a Sheppard/Desjardins/Kennedy combination which I'd really love to see used as the team's fourth line when Raffi Torres returns.
- With three more shots on goal tonight, one of which went in, Brent Burns now ranks 22nd in the league in shots...despite missing 12 games with a concussion. He's currently riding a four-game point streak and I really can't wait to watch him in the playoffs now that he has upwards of a full season at forward under his belt.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
2nd Star: Dan Boyle
3rd Star: Joe Thornton