In the Dallas Stars’ annual New Year’s Eve game, the Sharks’ offense saw the much-anticipated return of Logan Couture, who missed the last two weeks due to a concussion. With Couture back in the lineup, the Sharks hoped to strengthen their offense, but it wasn’t the only concern going into tonight. In the end, the game came down to the battle of the goaltenders.
The Stars came out firing on all cylinders in the first period, playing what Randy Hahn termed “Hitchcock hockey” after their head coach. Joe Thornton was sent to the box on a questionable tripping call two minutes into the period, which created an opening for Devin Shore to slide past the defense and net a puck behind Jones. However, the play was called for goaltender interference and the game remained scoreless.
Initially, Martin Jones seemed an impenetrable brick wall against the deluge of shots from the Stars until John Klingberg careened up the ice and snapped the puck past him six minutes into the game to earn the first goal of the night for Dallas. With the assists by Mattias Janmark and Alexander Radulov, Klingberg now leads the NHL in scoring defensemen.
After Klingberg’s goal, the Sharks were forced into playing defense, as they worked to block the continuous full-court press from the Stars. With six minutes left in the period, Jones seemed to regain some of his balance with a swift poke check to clear Janmark’s breakaway shot. It didn’t last and he was caught off balance by a neat wrister from Tyler Pitlick. His shot at the top-right corner from the high spot gave the Stars a two-goal lead.
The Stars out-shoot the Sharks 16-5 in the first period, being able to disrupt passes in the Sharks’ end, and ultimately leading to a discombobulated effort by the Sharks in the first twenty minutes. The Sharks were without a shot on goal for the first half of the period, while the Stars slipped past the teal-clad defense time and again with several expert shots on Jones. Though the Sharks have a 9-5-3 record after giving up the first goal of the game, the momentum needed for goal-scoring was vividly lacking throughout the first twenty.
The second period went off to a roaring start with a smart backhand by Joe Pavelski that Stars goaltender Ben Bishop just barely managed to block. The Sharks seemed to have found their momentum in first few minutes of the period, matching their first period output of five shots on goal within the first two minutes of the second. But then Joonas Donskoi was called for interference three minutes in, which put the Sharks on their heels as they shifted from energetic offense back into defensive mode. Brett Ritchie pushed Marc-Edouard Vlasic down and into the boards, which sent the Dallas winger to the penalty box, creating one minute of four-on-four hockey. Dallas answered quickly after that, with defenseman Stephen Johns firing a wrist shot from the blue line, giving Dallas their third goal on just eighteen shots.
Halfway through the period, Justin Braun swiped for the puck in the Stars’ end and upset Alexander Radulov, who was fighting to keep the puck out of Braun’s hands. It was a clean hit, but Radulov lost his balance, landing on his back and sliding at full speed into the boards. Play was stopped as Radulov was assessed. He was able to stand and skate to the bench without assistance, which prompted a round of cheers from the crowd and applause from the Sharks.
The Stars retaliated quickly after play resumed however, as Antoine Roussel shoved Braun into the boards. Braun immediately dropped the gloves and attempted to start a fight, but the referees split up the scuffle first. Braun was sent to the box for roughing, which handed Dallas another power play. Tyler Seguin quickly capitalized on the man advantage, netting a redirect from Jamie Benn and John Klingberg.
With eight minutes left in the period, the Sharks and Stars dropped their gloves, as several of each team tangoed behind the Stars net. Timo Meier got caught for roughing, while Esa Lindell took two minutes for tripping. Donskoi had a breakaway attempt for the Sharks with 13 seconds left of the four-on-four penalty, but Bishop was able to block the shot.
After two goals against and as many fights, the Sharks were finally pushing hard and working to notch even one goal in the second period. While the Sharks were attempting to capitalize on a power play, Donskoi accidentally caught Dan Hamhuis with his stick as Hamhuis was headed for the bench at the end of his shift. The Stars’ defenseman immediately made his way off the ice and to the dressing room. After a lengthy consultation with the captains and Ken Hitchcock, no penalty was given for Donskoi, but Roussel was given a ten minute game misconduct for roughing the Sharks players immediately after Hamhuis’ injury. The period ended without further incident, with the goal line at 4-0 in favor of the Stars. The only silver lining of the period for San Jose was that they out-shot Dallas 12-5.
The third period started with a goaltending change for the Sharks, with Aaron Dell replacing Martin Jones in net. While the first five minutes evidenced energy from the Sharks after a turbulent second period, Bishop was able to block each of their shots. The Sharks appeared to have cooled off after the fights of the second period, favoring connecting passes over punches. Ten minutes of the period passed with no goals to show for the effort by either team. Both the Sharks and the Stars had several good shots on goal, but none that were as frenetic or chippy as the previous periods.
Devin Shore finally broke the back-and-forth play with a slick backhand around Dell to tally yet another for Dallas. Before the Sharks could catch their breath, Tyler Pitlick careened through the screen of defensemen in front of Dell with a backhand of his own, widening the gap even further.
The dying minutes of the third saw the Sharks focus on disrupting passes and shot attempts from the Stars, but with no change to the scoreboard. When the final horn sounded after sixty minutes, Dallas had 34 shots and six goals, whereas the Sharks had been unable to capitalize on their 26 shots. This shutout was Ben Bishop’s 23rd of his career and fourth of the season.
The Sharks have snapped a three-game win streak, but will hope to turn that around in their first game of 2018. The Sharks will take on the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, January 2nd, at 4:30pm Pacific.