It may have been too little, too late—in fact, it almost certainly was—but San Jose's coaching staff finally spread out the team's offense to assemble three lines of scoring and replaced the club's two biggest veteran anchors with talented rookies ahead of tonight's matchup in Toronto. The Sharks responded with one of their most dominant showings of the season, trampling the Maple Leafs 4-1 in a game that wasn't even as close as the lopsided score indicates.
There's no question the poor quality of San Jose's opponent, a badly-built Leafs team further beset by suspension and injuries and in more or less full tank mode, had a lot to do with how this game turned out but a more optimized roster certainly played a role as the Sharks' revamped scoring lines each chipped in with a goal while the new-look fourth line generated pressure at times and drew a penalty.
Tomas Hertl opened the scoring, driving the middle lane to tip in a perfect Chris Tierney pass, Melker Karlsson buried a perfect Joe Thornton feed and Tommy Wingels tipped in a Matt Nieto shot with seconds to play in the middle frame as the team's top three lines all got on the scoresheet at even-strength. Logan Couture added a power play goal for a first unit that struggled in Winnipeg on Tuesday and the Sharks came away with a decisive, and rare, win against a bad team. It doesn't exactly salvage their playoff odds but at least it was fun hockey to watch and a glimpse of what this team can sometimes accomplish when its players are deployed properly and firing on all cylinders.
- With two assists on the night, Joe Thornton not only moves up to 900 helpers for his career but moves into a tie for 2nd in the NHL in assists this season. At 35. Despite missing four games with an injury. Send this man to the minors.
- Logan Couture's line was the best of the three newly constructed ones, turning a rather unfavorable zone start ratio into possession dominance and a late second period goal. Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels worked really well on either side of Joe Pavelski to start last season so it isn't surprising they turned in another effective performance alongside Couture on what was the Sharks "third" line by minutes played but could probably supplant the Chris Tierney unit for ice time going forward.
- Not to say Tierney wasn't great in his own right, beating out an icing call before whipping a perfect centering pass to Hertl for the Sharks' opening goal of the game. I'm belaboring the point but it's nice to have three lines that can reasonably be counted on for offense again.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Joe Thornton
2nd Star: Logan Couture
3rd Star: Marc-Edouard Vlasic