Sharks come back twice against Devils, win 4-3 in the shootout

Heading into tonight's game against the Devils the Sharks were first in shots per game and second in shots against. The issue wasn't getting scoring opportunities or giving up too many-- it was burying what came their way, and avoiding the brutal turnovers that have characterized so many goals against this season. San Jose played a nearly flawless game in the second area, only giving away the puck twice, and found themselves sporting a gaudy 41-19 shot advantage at the end of the night.

And yet the Sharks trailed 3-2 with under a minute left to play in the third period, needing a big goal late in order to avoid a 1-4 start to the season.

They got it from Joe Pavelski.

With 32 seconds left on the clock and Sharks netminder Antti Niemi on the bench to make room for the extra attacker, Joe Thornton pushed the puck out of a mad scramble in front of the net to the near circle. A creeping Pavelski was in perfect position to receive the puck, bending down to his knee and chipping the puck up top where it kissed off the top of the crossbar and down past the goal line.

It was the kind of break the Sharks needed to get back in the win column, and the kind of result they will look to build on tomorrow night with a date against the similarly struggling Bruins.

Late game heroics aside, the goal by Pavelski wasn't the only comeback San Jose managed to mount tonight. After spotting New Jersey a two goal advantage, off a goal by Parise via penalty shot and a beautiful play by Ilya Kovalchuk to keep the puck away from Michal Handzus and find Patrik Elias across the zone for the score, the Sharks came roaring back in the second period and managed to erase a two-goal deficit that was beginning to loom large.

Outshooting the Devils 20-5 in the middle frame, San Jose took a page out of last year's playbook and showcased how quickly they can get themselves back into games. Joe Thornton snuck a shot past Hedberg five hole on the rush after Dan Boyle found Joe Pavelski with an excellent outlet pass up the ice, cutting the lead to one.

A mere 1:03 later the Sharks struck again, as Logan Couture did a good job of sealing off the boards on an attempted Devils breakout and generating a turnover in the offensive zone. Clowe, Couture, and Havlat all got wacks at the puck in front of Hedberg, with Clowe's skate eventually doing the damage as the puck bounced off it into the net.

The blueline put in their best performance of the season tonight, with notable efforts from Colin White and Jason Demers considering their struggles thus far this season. Both players made good reads and executed the safe play in their own end, jumping into the play in the offensive zone during low-risk situations. If that pairing can build off tonight's quality low-key performance, the Sharks defensive depth will be all the better for it. Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic have continued to get better every game; although Burns made a few poor decisions in the neutral zone, these are the types of things the Sharks are going to live with throughout the year considering his stellar offensive ability. As Vlasic becomes more accustomed to when Burns is going to jump up into the play, those decisions will become easier for Burns to make.

Penalty trouble was the name of the game for the Sharks in the first period as they paraded to the box three times in the tilt. Credit Niemi for keeping it close in the early going, as New Jersey had a couple chances that could have gone in. Niemi had another relatively strong game in net despite his statistics stating otherwise, but I would like to see a better decision from him on that Clarkson goal which put the Sharks down 3-2. With Clarkson in tight Niemi came up out of the butterfly and tried to readjust his positioning-- if he stays down and takes away the lower portion of the net, there's no where for Clarkson to go but into his chest.

The power play was 0 for 5 on the night, with some poor entries into the zone littered in between some excellent opportunities that Hedberg managed to foil. When the power play is playing well it is lights out, but when it is going poorly it feels like 100% of it is due to their entries. The Sharks obviously don't like to give away possession with the man advantage, but chipping the puck in deep will back the blueliners off just a touch next time because it's pretty clear the drop passes and frantic feeds across the zone at the blueline are not going to work each go 'round.

The second line looked excellent for a couple shifts tonight, with Havlat's dynamic skating ability really bringing a lot to the fold. They probably had the best Sharks shift of the game with a nice low cycle during the second period that generated a couple scoring opportunities. Havlat looked on and off throughout the game as you would expect him to be, but once they get clicking in about five games, that is going to be a very dangerous tool at the Sharks disposal.

Torrey Mitchell left the game with what appeared to be either a shoulder or elbow injury and did not return. Devils forward Nick Palmieri drilled him into the boards in the first minute of the game, causing play to be stopped and Mitchell to head to the dressing room to be evaluated. With three points on the season and his speed looking as good as ever, you hope that this setback isn't one that keeps him on the shelf for an extended period of time.

All in all the Sharks had an effective game tonight. A mere two giveaways is going to help you win a lot of games in this League, and outshooting a team 41-19 is a surefire way to ensure you're putting yourself in position to get those breaks to go your way.

San Jose heads into Boston tomorrow night for a matchup with the Stanley Cup champion Bruins. Puck drops at 4:07 PM.