That's more like it.
After their two-game road swing through the Pacific Division's western Canadian contingent began in disappointing fashion last night in Calgary, the Sharks bounced back tonight with a statement win against Vancouver, building a four-point cushion over the Canucks in the process.
Chris Tierney scored his first NHL goal and added an assist, Matt Irwin fired a blast past Ryan Miller in his home province and Antti Niemi stopped 33 of 34 shots to give the Sharks a 4-0 win over their British Columbia rivals and improve the team to 11-6-4 against divisional opponents.
If there's one area in which the Sharks have been consistent this season, it's their level of inconsistency and following up a dreary loss to Calgary with a rout of the Canucks certainly follows suit. That's generally the mark of a mediocre team which, let's face it, San Jose has been for most of this season. But on a night like this it's easy to focus on the positives as there were plenty.
Tierney, who's been tearing it up in Worcester since being demoted, was the catalyst on a terrific, skilled fourth line that generated a bushel of chances including two goals. Niemi was outstanding, with highlight-reel stops on Radim Vrbata, Nick Bonino and others that allowed the Sharks to build a substantial lead. And a mobile blueline keyed the Sharks' attack, with Irwin and Matt Tennyson in particular proving to be an effective pairing. Apparently removing slow, useless players like John Scott and Scott Hannan from the lineup is a good idea after all.
- Removing Tyler Kennedy from the lineup, on the other hand, is rather questionable. He didn't have his greatest game last night but was still dynamic in the neutral zone and helped set up the Sharks' lone goal. Given the third line's lackluster recent play, I wouldn't mind seeing Kennedy replace Barclay Goodrow alongside Sheppard and Hertl on Saturday.
- In his first NHL game since December 11th, Mueller...looked largely like a rookie who hasn't played a NHL game in nearly two months. That's still better than what Hannan brings on a nightly basis and it's possible the Sharks just need to find Mueller a different partner than Brenden Dillon playing his off-side. Mueller did manage to make a positive impact on the penalty kill.
- Tierney became the fifth Shark to score his first NHL goal this season, joining Mueller, Tennyson, Goodrow and Melker Karlsson. Those five players and Daniil Tarasov combined for five points tonight as the Sharks continue to get key contributions from their first-year skaters.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Chris Tierney
2nd Star: Brent Burns
3rd Star: Logan Couture