With the Pacific Division as tight as ever, the Sharks came out rolling against a New Jersey Devils team on the cusp of falling out of the playoff race. Jersey, sitting fifth in the Metropolitan, needed the two points to pull them ahead of the Florida Panthers, who are closing in on the second Wild Card spot. For the Sharks, playoffs are all but guaranteed, but their position as second in the division is a bit more precarious. The two points would widen the gap between the Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, who are still in the mix to earn home ice.
The Devils hardly played like a team fighting for their lives. Five minutes into the meeting, Eric Fehr beat out Corey Schneider for his third goal of the year off a feed from Paul Martin.
Who's the FEHRist of the them all?— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) March 21, 2018
Why Eric is! His 3rd goal with the Sharks pic.twitter.com/SzJqONap26
The assist was Martin’s first point of the season in his fifth game with the Sharks and it wasn’t the only first of the night — but more on that later.
Dylan DeMelo took an interference penalty, putting the New Jersey power play front and center. They were given a golden opportunity just forty seconds later, when Melker Karlsson was called for hooking. But the Devils were unable to break the Sharks’ outstanding penalty kill or goaltender Martin Jones, even with a 5-on-3 advantage.
Just past the halfway mark of the period, New Jersey responded when none other than Taylor Hall banked goal number 32 after embarrassing Justin Braun by skating a bouncing puck around him and straight to the net. Hall now has 78 points on the season and seems to be doing everything in his power to get this team into playoffs. Unfortunately, playoff pushes are rarely made by one man.
The Sharks stayed calm. With Brian Boyle in the box for tripping, a D-to-D pass then found its way to Kevin Labanc and Captain America Joe Pavelski tipped the Bancer’s shot in, putting the Sharks back on top.
The Captain scores on the Power Play to put the Sharks up pic.twitter.com/SBYJab8YpN— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) March 21, 2018
Remember that thing about firsts? With under five minutes to go in the first, Jannik Hansen breathed a sigh of relief after notching his first goal of the year, going five hole on Schneider. It has been nearly a year since we’ve seen Hansen score — his last goal was on March 30, 2017.
5 hole for Jannik! His first goal of the year pic.twitter.com/u5596eSjFt— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) March 21, 2018
If the Sharks felt good about the first, they felt great about the second. The halfway mark of the game saw Barclay Goodrow net his seventh goal of the season, with a primary assist from Brenden Dillon, who is on a five-game point streak. Four goals on 14 shots proved too much for Schneider, who made way for Keith Kinkaid to mind the crease for the rest of the game.
Hooray for Barclay! Career high 7th goal pic.twitter.com/VJLAkM2F5N— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) March 21, 2018
The first shot the Kinkaid faced? That was Logan Couture’s 30th goal of the year, just 41 seconds after the Goodrow goal.
Evander Kane threw a hit on Taylor Hall that appeared to be shoulder-to-head contact while Hall was looking for the puck along the boards. Hall went to the dressing room for evaluation and did eventually return to the ice, though it seemed clear the hit rattled him. When the Devils got caught with too many men on the ice a few moments later, Hall made his way to the box, giving him the extra time to rest and putting Hall on the ice as soon as the penalty expired.
But Mikkel Boedker foiled that plan.
As fun as scoring three goals in each period was, it wasn’t sustainable and the Sharks were much quieter in the final frame. In the dying minutes of the game Blaek Coleman was able to sneak — and I mean sneak — one past Martin Jones after DeMelo left Jones’ shortside exposed, but there was never a comeback to be mounted here.
- Don’t let the explosive offense distract you from Jones’ stellar performance, stopping 26 of 28 shots. And yes, the Devils out-shot the Sharks 28 to 25, somehow. Goaltending: it’s a real thing.
- Is the power play fixed? I think getting out of that slump was the first step and two power play tallies tonight are hard to argue with. This is their 12th game this year with multiple power play goals.
- Oh boy, that offense. It’s hard to believe that at any point this season, we were worried about the lack of Sharks goals. They’ve scored 27 in their last five games — the first time they’ve produced that many since 1996.
- Both Devils goals tonight don’t look great on the Shark’s D-group. It’s far from the first time DeMelo and Braun have made costly mistakes and it’s too close to crunch time for those risks.
- Overall, though? This is the game we’ve been wanting for more than just a stand-in with Joe Thornton’s injury. Mix in a goal from the Kids Table and that’s the offense meant to replace Patrick Marleau. Seeing multiple players with or on-pace for career-high offensive numbers this year (looking at you, Barclay Goodrow and Brenden Dillon) means that they’ve taken the idea that everyone needs to contribute to heart.
- With Thornton and Joonas Donskoi out, things like Melker Karlsson on the top line and reuniting Burns and Martin feel like bandages on a much larger wound, but tonight shows how these players know what’s expected of them and what they’re capable of producing. They can’t fall back on any less than four lines in playoffs and somewhere, they have it. They just have to be able to sustain it. With how streaky this season has been? That’s a real concern.