Evgeni Nabokov earns his 50th career shutout, Sharks clinch a playoff berth with a 60 minute effort
Although Evgeni Nabokov didn't have to make very many tough saves in the game, he definitely deserves congratulations for his 50th career shutout.
So does the defense.
Nabokov made all the saves that he was supposed to make, and the defense did a good job of diverting the Stars to non-scoring areas. In addition, the Sharks blue liners were able to effectively clear traffic away from the front of the net, pushing Dallas behind Nabokov. The team as a whole was committed to playing defense for the entire sixty minutes, resulting in a much different outcome than we saw in Dallas last week.
The forwards were also impressive, most notably Devin Setoguchi and Logan Couture. Setoguchi effectively utilized his speed throughout the game, while Couture controlled the puck down low and put pressure on Marty Turco in the crease. Couture's drive for the puck has helped get the team out of its current funk, and should only help to make them a more well rounded offensive team in the future.
Although I was a huge critic of the current line combinations, I've grown to like them. It seems to have brought out the best in players like Setoguchi and Couture, and has even appeared to light a fire under Joe Thornton. After averaging just 1.5 shots on goal over the six game losing streak, Joe has pumped pucks towards the net. He's also simplified his game, controlling the puck and limiting turnovers. The coach must have liked what he saw, as well. If Plank's theory about the amount of shorthanded ice time dolled out to Thornton is correct, then the mere 0:46 seconds he saw tonight speaks volumes as well. There's almost no way these lines stay the same in the long run, but I'm glad they've worked as of late.
I do like the HTML reunion on the power play, and thank god the special teams play has improved since Edmonton. I love what I saw from Rob Blake in front of the net, and I hope that his apparent injury doesn't keep him out of the lineup long. Blake had less than a minute of ice time in the third, however, the fact that he even came out to test the injury was an encouraging sign. These last two games were the best he's played all season, and gave me hope that he'd be effective in the postseason. The return of Vlasic (and his minutes) have done wonders for his game.
Logan Couture also got banged up in the third period, and although he didn't play at all after the injury, he was sitting on the bench. I'm thinking it had more to do with the penalties and general tone of the game, which got out of hand towards the end. It's nice that the big three stand up for eachother, a sight that pretty much discredits any crack pot (Purdy) theory about locker room issues.
The Sharks are once again first in the West, and have played 120 minutes of almost mistake free (Mitchell, I'm looking at you) hockey. Life is good.