Tonight’s match up against the Columbus Blue Jackets felt a little too familiar at first. Much like two nights ago in Motown, the Blue Jackets’ strategy relied on edging the Sharks in grit, throwing hits with an unusual aggression, given that these teams haven’t seen each other since October 2016.
Despite the animosity, the Sharks looked good out of the gate. Brenden Dillon was able to draw a tripping penalty and the power play went to work. Five minutes into the period, none other that Logan Couture opened scoring with a power play goal off a feed from Kevin Labanc. The goal was a full team effort, with a screen on Sergei Bobrovsky by Brent Burns.
Halfway through the period, an ugly play by the recently returned Brandon Dubinsky on Brenden Dillon sent the game to 4-on-4 with matching roughing minors for the pair. Dubinsky wrapped his stick around the back of Dillon’s knee and used the leverage to topple him backwards — a dangerous play that was lucky Dillon’s head didn’t crack on the ice.
More entertaining than the two minutes of 4-on-4 were the pair exchanging... let’s call them “pleasantries” in the box:
Going into the second, the Sharks maintained pressure — a relief, given the team’s often inconsistent play from period to period. Columbus found a small window to strike early in the period when Boone Jenner fired a shot at Jones that appeared to have deflected off Dylan DeMelo on its way to the back of the net and tied the game at one apiece.
The Sharks didn’t let the game stay tied for long. With Seth Jones in the box for slashing and Nick Foligno sitting two minutes for hooking, Kevin Labanc took no time before lighting the lamp on a two-man advantage for his seventh of the year. Off the face off, Joe Pavelski worked the puck to Labanc in front of the net and he banged it in on a one-timer. His place on the first power play unit in the absence of Joe Thornton has certainly produced results.
Once again playing from behind, the physicality from Columbus slowed while they tried to stay in the game. They added eight shots on goal, getting closer to the net each time, but Jones stood solid between the pipes and the Sharks took the lead into the third.
Going into another period down by a goal again, the Blue Jackets began to throw everything they had toward the net, but seven minutes into the third, Marc-Edouard Vlasic put the game further out of reach with a bouncing backhander.
Vlasic is close to on pace for his career-best offensive year. His childhood Pavel Bure dreams are slowly coming true.
Despite their 14 shots in the third period, it never felt like the Blue Jackets were back in the game after the Vlasic goal. Mikkel Boedker followed it up with an unsuccessful breakaway that, while boring and uneventful, did highlight his speed in a way that was almost interesting.
Logan Couture took another puck to the mouth, courtesy of Brent Burns once again. He headed off the ice and down the tunnel. He returned a few stressful minutes later.
Joel Ward took a tripping penalty late in the third, and with one final push, the Blue Jackets weren’t able to crack Martin Jones, and the Sharks earned their first win without Joe Thornton.
- The Boone Jenner goal can hardly be blamed on Jones. Unintentional deflections off your own skaters are difficult to anticipate, at best. This very well could’ve been a 3-0 game and Jones played as though it was, stopping 28 of 29 shots.
- The Dubinsky play on Dillon seems like it should cause a conversation to happen with the Department of Player Safety. Though he used his stick, the effects of a play like that are similar to slew-footing and can cause series brain injury.
- Kevin Labanc has been stellar lately. He is now second on the Sharks with primary assists (15) and has totaled nine points (three goals, six assists) in his last eight games. His goal tonight was the fourth 5-on-3 goal for the Sharks this season, his fourth career game winning goal, and the fourth time the Sharks have scored two power plays goal in one game against Columbus.
- An unlikely offensive leader, Marc-Edouard Vlasic leads all NHL defensemen in goals since January 1 with six. Going back a month further, since December 6, the only defenseman with more goals is the Nashville Predators’ P.K. Subban with eight, compared to Vlasic’s seven. Vlasic’s last three goals have been assisted by his D-partner, Justin Braun. Shutdown pair whom?
- The Timo Meier - Joonas Donskoi - Joe Pavelski line is looking like the best second line option to come out of this Life Without Joe Thornton era.
- The power play success was an easy prediction against Columbus’ weak penalty kill, but the Sharks have made effective strides toward perfecting the power play:
One thing San Jose has done well on their power play is emphasize more shots from near the Ovi spot and the opposite dot. This has been much more effective than allowing Burns to bomb away from the point over and over.— Fear the Fin (@fearthefin) February 3, 2018