Clowe strikes the final blow as Sharks win 2-1

On a night that saw only three penalties called against both teams, it's safe to say the up and down action usually associated with Sharks and Blackhawks hockey wasn't on full display tonight. It was a tight-checking matchup right from the opening whistle, as Chicago and San Jose traded an even amount of scoring chances all night long.

Ryane Clowe would go on to score the game winner 3:52 in overtime, sending San Jose to the locker room with two points over the rival Blackhawks. It was his second marker of the night, solidifying his place as one of the most important Sharks during the 2010-2011 season.

Todd McLellan switched up the lines he worked with in practice earlier today, reuniting Ferriero-Clowe-Couture for the vast majority of the game. That line has developed into what is essentially the Sharks top forward group right now, and generated numerous scoring opportunities-- Clowe and Couture had seven and five shots on net respectively, and along with Ferriero's total of two, accounted for nearly half of the shots San Jose directed to the net.

"I liked that line again. Clowe did a lot of the grunt work, (Couture) looked very sharp and had strong legs skating," Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan said. "(Ferriero) was very effective, better than he has been the last two games. A lot of hard work and good for them to be rewarded."

The Sharks came out strong to start the first, a welcome addition from the slow starts we were witness to during the tail end of their East Coast road trip. The Sharks would use that momentum to notch the first goal of the game as Jason Demers took Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to the cleaners. Chipping the puck to himself off the sideboards, Demers blew past Hjalmarsson and threw a pretty feed to the front of the Blackhawks net where Ryane Clowe lay in wait on the doorstep.

The Sharks and Hawks would continue to trade chances in the period, and after some busted coverage below the net, Chicago managed to strike. Jordan Henry walked the end line and squeaked the puck past Antti Niemi, who had failed to stay glued to his post. Niemi had a peculiar night in net, giving up a plethora of rebounds in the early going, something he acknowledged following the game.

"I think I felt pretty good. I wasn't as anxious as I was before last game [against Chicago]," Niemi said. "They tried to shoot early and make rebounds, but after I switched to my glove and blocker, I felt pretty good then."

Credit the Sharks defense for helping Niemi get through the early part of that game. With the exception of Dan Boyle, all cylinders were firing tonight. Boyle's minutes have resulted in a listless offensive game lately (2 assists in December), but the rest of San Jose's defenseman have managed to pick up the pace. Jason Demers, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun, Douglas Murray, and Niclas Wallin all had very strong games. It was one of the first nights this season when the blueline seemed to come together as a unit, balancing an aggressive posture in the offensive zone with sound defensive responsibility. Chicago could be seen stashing a forward at the San Jose blueline for the majority of the tilt (a common scheme instituted by Joel Quinneville in HP Pavilion), but the Sharks played it perfectly all night long.

Patrick Marleau continued to struggle with the puck, and the rest of San Jose's top players ended up having mediocre nights as well. Dany Heatley had a couple of sweet dangles that we have come to expect from the Canadian sniper, but didn't manage to get the puck to the net as much as he would have liked. Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski also had uneventful games, accounting for four shots and limited scoring chances.

The Sharks bottom line had one of their better games lately however, providing San Jose (and the restless HP Pavilion crowd) with energy during the majority of their shifts. Jamie McGinn has strung together some better games recently, and while his scoring chances have yet to result in a goal on the year, a post tonight and another chance in tight seem to indicate he may go the way of the Vlasic (2 A's on the night) and eventually break out. Scott Nichol, John McCarthy, and Jamal Mayers also had good games, as Nichol and Mayers speed on the forecheck got the boards-a-poppin and the Hawks defensemen's knees a knockin'.

"I thought our fourth line really gave us a lot of energy," McLellan said. "Scotty, Jamal, and Ginner today, it was one of their better games. And we needed that boost from them."

When the game went into overtime, it was a crapshoot as to who would score the game winning goal. Four on four saw the Sharks look better than they had all game, with the open ice setting up a flurry just before Clowe's game winner. And with the majority of the game being quite the tepid affair, it was refreshing to see the ice open up and San Jose come out on top in an aspect of the game (overtime) that they have struggled with this season (2-4 coming into tonight).

In a night where his line did the heavy lifting, it was rather fitting that Ryane Clowe would end the game with a shot off his stick. And with Vlasic's recent two game stint that has seen him go from zero points to three on the year, a few well-natured jabs at his teammate were clearly in order when discussing the beautiful pass through the middle of the zone that set up that game winner.

"Benny made a nice play to me to send it off, turned a three on two into a nice scoring chance. Pickles' shot was blocked, and on the first shift too he shot it over the net, so I was screaming for it when he had it coming down," Clowe said with a smirk. "I don't know if he had Crawford sold but yeah, that was a helluva pass."

San Jose plays host to Dallas on Monday night. It will be an opportunity for the team to make up ground in the Pacific Division, and a chance to avenge the brutal loss in November that saw them surrender a two goal lead in the third period. It sets off a big month for the team, with matchups against Western Conference playoff contending teams on the docket until the New Year.