Sharks defeat Hiller and dismal Ducks, face Columbus Thursday
As Jason Plank pointed out in his game day this morning, Jonas Hiller has been some kind of mythical creature this year when he's played San Jose. Tonight, Hiller again looked like the Kraken on crack for a good portion of the game, until the Sharks were finally able to break through and win the all important race to three.
The win didn't come without some hand-wringing, though.
Just 2:37 into the first, Corey Perry backhanded a puck past Antti Niemi to put the Ducks up 1-0. In each of the games the Sharks had played against Anaheim this year, they'd given up the first goal, which played a big part in their 0-3 record to their Southern California rivals. So, not exactly a good start, as the Sharks have a much better winning percentage when scoring first (.800) than when trailing first (.429).
Still, that goal was one of just three shots allowed during the period as San Jose dominated play for the entirety of the first. Although San Jose didn't manage a goal in the opening twenty minutes, it sure looked like they would be scoring one in the near future.
That goal didn't come until Brad Winchester scored a Ben Eager-esque goal at 16:23 of the second. Jamie McGinn made a great up-ice feed to the streaking Winchester who unleashed a laser from high in the zone that clanked off almost every post before falling into the net. It was Winchester's fourth goal of the year, and while he's not a fit for the top-six role he's found himself in at times this year, he's turned out to be a godsend for the Sharks' fourth line.
You could see that the goal re-energized the team, as their next marker would come just a few seconds after... 0:27 to be exact. Benn Ferriero, while also out of place in the Sharks top-six group, has made the most of his time with the skilled players and scored another important goal for this team. Ferriero scored in the same fashion he always seems to: as he's falling down, he makes a strong stick move to force the puck in. That's not a criticism of his game mind you, it's just a fact; look at his goals against Boston, Vancouver and Anaheim. Ice is slippery.
The Sharks would get another goal from Joe Pavelski, his 16th, in the third after Joe Thornton generated a rebound with a hard snapshot. At that point, the game was over; Anaheim generated some chances while out-shooting the Sharks 16-7 in the final frame, but couldn't get the puck past Antti Niemi, who had a very strong game.
Though the big names didn't have huge games, everyone contributed for the Sharks. We especially liked the play of Brent Burns tonight, in particular his defensive play, an observation that had merit when you look at the scorning chances. "Especially notable," said our scoring chance specialist, Derek from The Neutral, "is the fact that Burns spent more time killing penalties than any other Shark yet the team yielded zero chances against when he was on the ice shorthanded."
Burns played a big part of the Sharks killing of all four penalties they faced on the evening, especially a four minute high sticking call that Brad Winchester took late in the first. That was a big kill for San Jose, who couldn't afford to lose any more confidence against a team they have had little success against lately.
Speaking of little success, though, the Sharks also had trouble of their own on their power play, going 0-4 on the game. A recent dry spell has sent the power play conversion percentage plummeting; the Sharks now sit at 17th overall in the league.
That's a metric they have to fix as Columbus comes into town tomorrow night. The Blue Jackets may be able to help them do that, as they're one of only two teams worse at killing penalties than San Jose. The Jackets have been a tonic for most teams' woes, actually, as they have a stranglehold on last place in the league.
Like Anaheim, trade rumors are swirling around the Blue Jackets right now and it's not a stretch to believe that something could give soon. Here's to them not getting any better before tomorrow night, though.
Prediction: Sharks win 5-2. Logan Couture and Jamie McGinn finally get to play on a line together and combine for every goal.