On the second night of back-to-backs, eleventh game in twenty nights (!), on the shoulders of an eight-game win streak, escaping with a win (thank Jones) against a non-playoff team the night before, having established a 99.91% chance of clinching a playoff spot, and playing against an opponent playing for its playoff life on an almost as impressive five-game win streak on the road, the Sharks had every excuse in the world to pack it in tonight. This was the type of game that had “loss” written all over it before it ever began. While a loss was ultimately the result, there was no pack-in from this team.
Ok, well, maybe except for the entirety of that third period. But even that — that was just defensive strategy! Right? Right.
If the Sharks were to have any chance of winning this game, they needed to come out with their legs under them (you know, as opposed to over them) with a dominating first period. And dominate the first, they did.
San Jose came out of the gates absolutely firing. Like, metaphorically as a team, but also literally firing any and every puck to the net. Timo Meier started things off with an excellent chance in the first minute of the game on the Tierney line. Joe Pavelski followed that up with a grade-A tip to the net off a terrific backhand chip-pass from a double-teamed Evander Kane from the left-hash mark. Kane finished off the flurry of chances moments later off a pass from the boards back to the top of the face-off circle by putting a wicked wrister past Jake Allen.
The goal was Kane’s fourth in three games and ninth since the trade, with 14 points in 14 games since his acquisition to the team. He’s indeed been every bit the hockey player we thought he’d be for SJ, and at this point is definitely the most impactful trade-deadline player. While smaller, more overlooked things like the play of the fourth line (eight goals produced in the eight game win streak) have contributed to the team’s success in the past few weeks, it’s been Kane’s exceptional play, along with Martin Jones’ Vezina-worthy play, that have contributed most to that success.
Aaron Dell hasn’t been too shabby himself this season either, even if he hasn’t played much of late, netting 13 wins in his last 17 starts. He followed up Kane’s goal with a terrific save in St. Louis’s bounce-back shift, coming out confidently outside the crease to make the stop.
After a high-stick on Mikkel Boedker by St. Louis defenseman Joel Edmundson resulted in a power play for team teal, the urgency to get a goal on the power play was obvious: despite the team’s success of late, they’ve only gone two for their last 25 with the man-advantage heading into the game. Brent Burns almost saw to that by ringing one off the post, with Pavelski following up the rebound a little handcuffed and getting his weak shot to the empty part of the net only just blocked.
After all the Shark domination in the first period, sans one grade-A St. Louis chance, the bluest of Blues had a fluke shot find the back of the net towards the end of the period to tie things up. Fourth-liner Oskar Sundqvist put a floater by Dell with traffic in front of the net which obscured the Sharks netminder from being able to track it.
The middle period started with a terrific save from Dell, who followed the save up with a second grade-A stop on the very next shift. After an Edmundson hook on Meier later in the period though, Paveski put the Sharks up 2-1 with a Pavelskian tip off a wicked Burnsian wrister from Burns from the top of the point.
The goal was good enough for Pavelski’s ninth 20-goal season, further entrenching the Sharks captain’s place as second all-time on the franchise list behind Patrick Oh-Gutless-My-Gutless Marleau’s 14 20-goal campaigns.
Burns got the primary assist on the goal, and his secondary assist on Kane’s goal earlier put him at 50 assists for the season — the first Sharks defenseman to ever do that in a season. The Wookie followed up his second assist a few minutes later with an absolutely gorgeous bit of stick-handling towards the net that was robbed of a Karlsson tap-in as Burns’ backhand pass was only just broken up in front of the net.
Dell was able to keep things level after the Blues responded hard after the San Jose goal, but then a Meier trip led to a Blues power play. Normally, not a problem, as in the last 15 games for San Jose, they’ve only allowed a power play goal against in one of them (when they let in three against Vancouver — a game which they still won). But a world-class sniper in Vladimir Tarasenko can give even the best penalty-kill in the league problems with a flick of the wrist, tying things up after picking his spot top corner from inside the left face-off circle 12 minutes into the period.
Jake Allen robbed Kane on the very next shift off a backhander three feet from the front of the net. Moments later, Dylan DeMelo almost got his first of the year on what would have been the highlight goal of the league this year by almost Bobby Orr-ing the puck behind Allen, after flying parallel to the ice to reach out for the puck on his backhand.
The rest of the period had the teams trade a few chances, when a stand-out chance off a terrific Vlasic pass-and-play in the d-zone found its way to Kane, who rushed up the right hand side of the ice, only to be stopped by Allen, keeping the game level 2-2 after two.
The final frame started off just as the second did, with a great save from Aaron Dell on the very first shift of the period to keep the Sharks in it. That was really the theme of the period. Grade-A Blues chance — saved by Dell. Two-on-one for the Blues — broken up, shot wide, or saved by Dell. A Dmitrij Jaškin shot — robbed by Dell. That’s not the type of period to watch if you’re a fan of Shark offense. But if you’re a fan of PDB deciding to finesse out a period with heavy defense for his strategy, then save that one on DVR. Perhaps it was his recognition that the Sharks were probably flat-out gassed by that time, and the Blues were fresher.
If that was the case, he wasn’t wrong.
The Sharks found a way to eke out a point after a dominating 1st, but a dominated 3rd. The second overtime in as many nights was much like most of the 3rd period. Let’s not forget: fatigue was certainly a factor for the Sharks, but the Blues were desperate for points and red-hot themselves. So it didn’t come as too much of a surprise when Tarasenko followed up his game-tying goal with a game-winning goal halfway through overtime after a Boedker mis-handle from behind his net had Sobotka find his fellow Vladimir for the game-winner.
The Blues (43-28-5) extend their win streak to six and now leapfrog past both the Avalanche and Kings for the first Wild Card spot. The Sharks (44-23-10) at 98 points look to keep their nine-game point streak going Thursday against Nashville. Yeah, it’s a pretty rough road trip. But let’s be thankful that the Sharks have put themselves in a position where points aren’t necessarily the most important thing in the world.
- Having said that — health and fatigue are the most important things in the world this time of year, so instead of swapping out Marcus Sorensen for his crime of getting a goal in place of Joel Ward, how about saving Tim Heed’s rotting corpse from the press-box by feeding him some playing time for Dylan DeMelo?
- Speaking of DeMelo, that near-goal would have been something, but the young defenseman made two pretty egregious defensive plays in tonight’s game that resulted in turnovers and almost goals against. The first was a weak, hopeful backhand pass from just outside the defensive zone intended for all the way across the rink, which was easily intercepted at center ice and brought back in for a St. Louis chance. I won’t get into the DeMelo/Heed debate, but both sides of that argument need to concede that a game off here and there for the sake of rest at the very least isn’t the worst idea in the world.
- Aaron Dell was confident all night long, coming outside the crease to challenge shooters and staying in solid position on numerous occasions. It’s nice to have two netminders this hot heading into the post-season.
- After receiving very little ice in the past few games and being stapled to the bench for the third period, Paul Martin received almost 20-minutes of ice time tonight, including at major junctions in the third. I’ve seen the idea float around that PDB’s been saving Martin to be fresh for the post-season. I highly doubt that he’d keep Martin in over Joakim Ryan once he’s healthy, but for all the good that the Sharks coach has done all season, I wouldn’t put it past him to do that. His love for veterans, safe to say, is a bit of an Achilles heel. Something to keep an eye on.
- Mikkel Boedker’s hot streak a few weeks back has turned into a bit of an ice-cold streak. Well, he was signed by Doug Wilson to replace Marleau, so streakiness was to be expected?
- Barclay Goodrow left the game after just three shifts in the first and did not come back.