Quick Bites: Sharks take a bite out of Avalanche’s playoff hopes

The young guns win it for the Sharks.

A much better all around game came from the Sharks last night. San Jose took care of the puck and made sure to avoid those breakaways that have sunk the team in the past. The result was a 4-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche.

It was the first game back for Marcus Sorensen after he missed a few games due to injury. His upper lip was stitched up, presumably where he took a puck to the face during the Feb. 23 game in Columbus. He had a dozen stitches, but didn’t seem to lose a step, scoring two goals.

Sorensen’s goals could be a sign of good things to come. He was part of the third line that also included Joe Thornton and Gustav Nyquist. The line looked good all night and Nyquist appears to be finding his way alongside Thornton. He had 16:05 of ice time last night and five shots on goal.

Meanwhile, Kevin Labanc had two assists last night and has been heating up in recent games.

“Yeah, I think I proved myself,” said Labanc after the game. “You just got to be consistent with proving yourself every game. Offensively and also defensively. We had a really good defensive group here and we can go far in the playoffs and Pete [DeBoer] needs to trust me on the defensive side of things, so I think I’m doing my job.”

DeBoer was also asked about Labanc’s play after the game.

“Yeah, Banker’s playing well right now,” said DeBoer. “He’s doing some good stuff. Just got to keep going.”

As you can see from the chart below, the Sharks dominated possession. This chart from Natural Stat Trick shows score- and venue- adjusted Corsi at 5-on-5. You can see that after a pretty even start to the first, San Jose basically took over. Even when Colorado pushed back in the third, they could not sustain pressure for long periods of time.

And just because it’s fun, let’s take a look at the heat map.

There were plenty of chances for the Sharks in those high danger scoring areas. Better yet, the Sharks’ team defense was sound last night. They limited many of Colorado’s shots to the perimeter.

For his part, Martin Jones made the saves when it counted, but his numbers aren’t great. He stopped 22 of the 25 shots he faced for a .880 save percentage.

The new line of Thornton, Sorensen and Nyquist that paid dividends early in the first period. Brent Burns was playing low near the left dot, when he took a shot on net. Sorensen was there to redirect it past Semyon Varlamov and just like that, it was 1-0, Sharks.

Unlike in the last few games, the Sharks did not let up after scoring the first goal. They continued to come at the Avalanche in waves and their team defense was much better. The Sharks closed gaps and took space away from the Avalanche, making any form of scoring chance difficult.

When the Avs finally gained the zone, they were able to get some sustained pressure and draw the first penalty of the night. Radim Simek took a two minute hooking penalty and the Sharks had a penalty kill.

On the ensuing kill, the Avs spent most of the time in the Sharks’ zone, but the Sharks did a great job of keeping the play to the outside and getting sticks into the lanes. At the tail end of the penalty kill, Martin Jones stopped an up close shot by Carl Soderberg to keep the Sharks in the lead.

San Jose had a number of other scoring chances, but none that managed to get past Varlamov. Both teams headed to the locker room with the score 1-0 in favor of the Sharks.

The second period started with a semi-breakaway by Nyquist. He had a great shot, but Varlamov was positioned well and made the easy save. The Avalanche cleared the zone, but the third line came right back in, led by Thornton. They had a few more shots on goal before going off on a line change.

That left the work to the top line and Timo Meier. Meier brought the puck into the Avs zone and Erik Johnson dropped back on defense. Meier used the extra time to shoot. It was a wobbly puck, but it fooled Varlamov and went over his shoulder.

2-0, Sharks. Joe Pavelski with the assist.

A few minutes later, the Avs managed to get some zone time of their own. From the point, Nikita Zadorov teed it up and blasted it through traffic. Jones wasn’t lined up properly and the Avs were within one.

Despite giving up the goal, the Sharks went right back on the attack. Kevin Labanc made a power move down near the Avs net and gave the Sharks a pair of scoring chances. With Evander Kane sidelined due to injury, Labanc slotted into the second line with Joonas Donskoi and Tomas Hertl. He made the most out of the opportunity, adding two helpers to his stat line for the night.

San Jose continued to roll and finally drew a hooking penalty. With Ian Cole in the box, San Jose had a few opportunities, but were unable to capitalize on the ensuing power play. The two-minutes expired with the score still 2-1 in favor of the Sharks.

But the Sharks continued to tilt the ice in their favor. With less than 30 seconds left in the period, Sorensen scored his second of the night. A shot on from the point by Labanc was stopped by Varlamov, but the rebound went right to Hertl. Hertl got it past Varlamov, but hit the post. The puck skittered in the crease and Sorensen was there to help it over the line.

The Sharks headed to the locker room up 3-1.

It was a well deserved score. The Sharks out shot the Avalanche 18-8 in the second period. Many of those shots were in and around the crease.

Early in the third, the Sharks had a chance to extend the lead after Patrik Nemeth received two minutes for delay of game. Once again, San Jose could not cash in and the score remained 3-1.

Colorado is good in the third period this season. According to Hockey Reference, the team has outscored opponents 84-71 in the final period of regulation. It’s an important stat to make note of because Colorado was the first team to score in the third period last night.

The Avalanche had some sustained pressure in the Sharks’ zone midway through the period. Mackinnon did a great job protecting the puck and keeping it in the zone. It forced Brenden Dillon to take a slashing penalty just to keep up and the Avalanche had another power play.

They made good use of it. Burns was unable to get the puck out of the zone. The Avs went D-to-D and Alexander Kerfoot tried to pass it down low. Marc-Edouard Vlasic managed to get a stick on it, but it tipped right to Gabriel Landeskog, who bobbled the bouncing puck but pushed it toward the net. That’s where Mikko Rantenen was waiting to put it in.

3-2, Sharks.

Colorado continued to try and take control but when your defense gets aggressive, it gives the other team scoring chances. Meier picked the puck up in the neutral zone and went the other way, two-on-one with Pavelski. Colorado’s defense took away the pass, so Meier drove the net. That’s when he was tripped by Samuel Girard. The Sharks didn’t score, but they did get a power play.

On that power play, Hertl made a great play in the neutral zone to strip the puck from Zadorov. He played the puck over to Labanc, who entered the Sharks zone. The Sharks moved the puck around and Labanc eventually found Pavelski all alone at one of the faceoff dots. Pavelski had a wide open net and put the Sharks up 4-2.

And yet, Colorado would not go away. Less than a minute later, Girard made up for his penalty. He fooled Thornton at the blueline, spun around him and then shot it on net. It went through all kinds of traffic and beat Jones glove side. The Avs were back within one.

Colorado tried for one more, but hit a few posts. That’s when the Sharks discovered the best defense is a good offense. They had a few scoring chances of their own, including one where Labanc put it on net from inside the crease. Varlamov made the save.

Then Jones returned the favor. A shot from the point was stopped by Jones. Matt Calvert was caught hovering around the net a little too long for Burns’ liking. Burns gave Calvert a shot and then all the players came together. A few gloved punches were exchanged, but no penalties were handed out.

With about 90 seconds left in the game, Avs pulled Varlamov for the extra attacker, but Jones also made the key saves when it counted.

It was a nail biter, but the Sharks pulled out the 4-3 win and more importantly, picked up two points.

San Jose plays again on Sunday night at SAP Center against the Chicago Blackhawks.

If you’re watching the standings, as of this morning, the Sharks trail the Calgary Flames by five points for the top spot in the Pacific Division, but lead the Vegas Golden Knights by nine points.

Meanwhile, Colorado is tied with the Minnesota Wild for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference. But with three fewer regulation and overtime wins, the Wild have the tiebreaker, putting the Avalanche out of playoffs for now.