Last night was supposed to be a battle of two top tier NHL teams with lots of skill and it did not disappoint. Players on both the Winnipeg Jets and the San Jose Sharks were on their game and dialed in from the drop of the puck to the final horn.
There was also a “hat trick,” but we’ll get to that in a minute.
While most of the scoring happened in the first period, the other two periods were plenty exciting. There were scoring chances, but even better goaltending. Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck finished the night with 41 saves and a .932 save percentage (SV%). Martin Jones ended the night with 20 saves and a .833 SV%, but he was much better than his numbers. One of his big saves was a 2-on-0 in the second period.
Just one of the reasons for our appreciation. pic.twitter.com/aRTDc60vcK— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) December 21, 2018
If you look at the heat map, you’ll see Hellebuyck faced a lot of shots that were up close and personal. He earned every save he made.
The other point I want to make when it comes to the numbers is that while the score says 5-3 in favor of the Jets, it really was a game that the Sharks controlled for large portions. Check out the possession numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
To the game, where the first period was filled with lots of skill, lots of edge and best of all, great hockey. Of course, things didn’t start out that way. Moments after the puck drop, Justin Braun took a slashing penalty. Certainly not the way the Sharks wanted to start things out against the top team in the Western Conference. It evened out fairly quickly when Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine took a slashing call of his own (Game note: That’s about all we’ll hear from Laine in this game).
The resulting 4-on-4 play was oh so exciting. It all started out with what looked like an awesome scoring chance for the Sharks. Brent Burns tried to make a move around Dustin Byfuglien at the blueline, but he got stripped of the puck and Byfuglien was off to the races. Yes, I said Byfuglien. The D-man left Burns and Erik Karlsson in the dust and then beat Martin Jones top shelf to put the Jets up 1-0.
Instead of getting down on themselves, the Sharks bounced back. Joe Thornton made a solid defensive play in his own zone that sent Evander Kane the other way in a 2-on-1 with EK65. No need to pass, Kane finished the play off himself and tied it up at one apiece. Thornton claimed the primary assist on the goal and with it, 1,040 career assists; enough to tie Marcel Dionne for 10th on the NHL’s all-time assists list.
That was just the first two minutes of the game.
At the 4:22 mark, things got heated. A Jets player gave Jones a little extra tap after the whistle and everyone came together. Barclay Goodrow yanked Brendan Lemieux (son of short time Shark Claude Lemieux) out of the crease and bit off a little more than he could chew. Lemieux was quick to drop the gloves and Goodrow took three or four good punches before he fell to the ice. Both players were asked to take a seat in the box for five minutes apiece.
The game’s next goal came at the 11:27 mark of the first and it came courtesy of Captain Joe Pavelski. Just moments into the power play, Kevin Labanc received the puck from Erik Karlsson. Labanc took a few strides to just above the right dot and shot it on net. Pavs was screening in front and it bounced off his leg and into the net. 2-1 Sharks.
Sadly for San Jose, Winnipeg was resilient, too.
At the 12:32 mark, a crazy bounce off the end boards in the Sharks’ zone fooled everyone including Jones. Nickolaj Ehlers was the first to the puck and he tapped it past Jones, who was scrambling to get back into position.
The Jets were not done. Just a little over a minute later, Mason Appleton did what many rookies do when they play the Sharks: he scored his first ever NHL goal. The second assist went to Lemieux, his first ever NHL assist. Don’t worry, Lemieux has already scored his first NHL goal against some other poor, unsuspecting team.
Deep breath. That’s where the first period ended, with the Jets leading 3-2.
In the second, the scoring settled down though the excitement did not. Both Jones and Hellebuyck were solid in net. Jones made that aforementioned awesome save on Wheeler.
Hellebuyck also made some amazing saves of his own, but was the first to break in the goalie stare down. With less than 10 seconds left in the second period, Hellebuyck made a routine pass to help the puck move along the boards. The Jets couldn’t find it, but Kane could. Before any of the Jets nearby could stop him, Kane slid the puck across ice to Joonas Donskoi, who was waiting at the back door.
Donskoi really— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) December 21, 2018
Finnished that pass pic.twitter.com/BgHQpzyFX5
The Sharks headed to the locker room tied 3-3. The goal was Donskoi’s 100th career point.
If things slowed in the second period, it went at a snail’s pace for the first half of the third. Tied at 3, neither team wanted to give up what was likely to be the game winning goal. The defense on both ends of the ice was stifling. When it finally got through to the net, both goaltenders were up to the task.
But someone had to break and sadly, it was the Sharks. With just over three minutes left in the third period, the Jets made the Sharks pay on a failed clearing attempt. Winnipeg came into the zone with Wheeler leading the charge, Jones came way out to challenge him and instead of shooting, Wheeler circled behind the net and passed it to Ehlers out front. Ehlers had a wide open net and made no mistake as he put the puck into the empty 4x6 to make the score 4-3. It was his second of the night.
With 90 seconds left in the game, Head Coach Pete DeBoer pulled Jones. The Sharks got a shot on, but lost the zone before they could set up again. That’s when Ehlers got the puck at center ice, Pavelski was dogging him and had a little bit of a hook. The ref felt it was enough to award Ehlers an empty net goal even though Ehlers never shot the puck. It’s a rule, though some people, including Pavelski, would say it didn’t apply here.
The goal made it 5-3 and gave Ehlers his “hat trick.”
The Sharks have a quicker than usual turnaround for a homestand. They will be back in action on Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings. Game time is 1 p.m. Pacific.