Winning Play: The ageless Thornton, the unflappable Jones and more

Even a great team must steal a win here and there.

Because of a flu bug going around the dressing room, Peter DeBoer acknowledged at morning skate, “On a normal night, we’d have great energy. Tonight, I’m not sure. We’ll have to find a way.”

The San Jose Sharks found a way in a 5-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, despite a less-than-stellar first 40 minutes.

“We turned over a lot of pucks,” Joe Pavelski observed of the first two periods, which saw San Jose outshot 29-15. “We had a lot of shifts where it was two, three, four times, we couldn’t get it out of their end.”

Regardless, the Sharks pushed out to a 3-2 lead after 40, aided by questionable goaltending from Antti Niemi, better netminding from Martin Jones and timely bursts of energy from Marcus Sorensen, Joonas Donskoi and Tomas Hertl.

“Marcus, Jumbo, they had a great game for us, kept us going,” Pavelski noted of the Sorensen, Joe Thornton and Kevin Labanc line.

While it wasn’t Sorensen credited with the game-winner, his effort was instrumental in Thornton’s goal.

Phillip Danualt (24) bearing down on the half-wall, Sorensen (20) showed good patience to wait a beat, allowing Kevin Labanc (62) to take position on the cycle. Labanc rimmed it to Thornton (19).

On reception of the puck, a deliberate Thornton appeared to be favoring the forehand pass. The moment that Brett Kulak (17) overcommitted to defending that, Jumbo went backhand. It was a likely scheme from the ageless Thornton.

Meanwhile, Sorensen crashed the net, drawing Danault in. The attempted Thornton pass went off Danault’s stick, past Niemi. That errant stick, of course, wouldn’t have been there without Sorensen’s center lane drive.

“Ever since we started together, I’ve loved it,” Thornton said of playing with Sorensen. “He just works so hard, skates so hard. I always thought he was an underrated player. Great skill, sees the ice well.”

Speaking of underrated, Joonas Donskoi’s puck pursuit contributed to a pair of goals.

Donskoi (27) won the puck three times in a matter of seconds — he stopped Kulak’s attempted clear at the half-wall, batted it away from Nate Thompson (21), then beat Dale Weise (22) to a loose puck in the slot — before Timo Meier (28) made it 4-2.

For Tomas Hertl (48), his sole penalty killing shift was no matter of seconds. In fact, it was over a minute and a half, which makes how he finished this shift all the more impressive:

Hertl jumped Andrew Shaw’s (65) pass to the point. He might have even used Paul Byron (41), who he was standing behind and covering in the slot, as a screen to disguise his defensive intentions.

Hertl then handled it out through Shea Weber (6) and Jonathan Drouin (92) before curling back into the defensive zone to salt away time. His first attempted clear rebounded off the linesman and back into the zone. Undaunted, Hertl cleared it again, this time successfully.

On the next shift, Thornton popped home the game-winner.

“Me and Cooch were already tired. We just stayed with it,” said Hertl. “Afterwards, we scored, it kind of changed the game.”

These were individual shifts, individual plays. But the game-changer who held it all together was Jones. While the Artturi Lehkonen goal may not have been his finest, Jones turned away 37 of 39 shots in all, more than satisfactory numbers from the much-maligned goalie.

Jones did more than make saves. He also demonstrably calmed his team.

Montreal asserted itself early, running out to a 7-2 shots advantage in the first six minutes of play. The Canadiens had piled on six straight shots, when Jones was faced with the decision of moving or keeping the puck:

One would imagine, if it was San Jose running the opposition ragged, that Jones would’ve moved the puck. This was a veteran move from the unflappable netminder.

“He gives us that confidence,” Pavelski offered.

On the next shift, Hertl would boost the slower Sharks with a much-needed 1-0 lead.

DeBoer admitted, “We gutted out a win tonight.”