Shark-Infested Blogger

March 29, 2010 12:43 PM

Sharks Grab Four Points in Under 25 Hours

This was a big week for the San Jose Sharks.

The team was coming off a five-game pointless streak and six losses in a row. They had lost control of the division and their defence was in shambles.

Then the Sharks started to turn it around. They beat the Minnesota Wild to end their road trip and the Dallas Stars to begin their homestand. But with neither team legitimately in the playoff picture, the real test came this weekend.

In a 24-and-a-half hour period, the Sharks hosted two playoff teams: a true Stanley Cup contender in the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday evening and a twilight matchup with the Colorado Avalanche. This was a chance to see if the previous wins were the result of poor competition or a true resurgence.

Against Vancouver, the Sharks gave up an early soft goal, as a bad-angle shot trickled in between Evgeni Nabokov and the post. Last week, that would have led to the team crumbling, and indeed for over four minutes after the goal they did struggle: Vancouver got the only four shots in that time, and although the Sharks were out-hitting the Canucks 7-4, this was primarily because hits generally do not come as often from the team that possesses the puck.

However, a Vancouver penalty settled down the game, even though a Sharks turnover led to a Dan Boyle hook to even things out 1:06 later. While the Sharks were out-shot 9-7 on the period, they carried a 4-2 edge over the last six minutes and into the second period (16-15).

In the first period, Roberto Luongo had made several strong saves. But San Jose had more jump in the second period, and this led to a hooking penalty just a couple minutes in. After a great short-handed chance was turned aside by Nabokov and cleared by his defence, the Sharks found themselves in an odd-man rush. Patrick Marleau wristed a pass to Dany Heatley on the right wing with Joe Thornton trailing; the threat of a pass was all Heater needed to find an opening and tie the game.

San Jose also got more traffic in front of the net in the second, creating more screens and rebounds. They played with more abandon in the defensive zone, too, as Rob Blake went to the ice to clear the puck, allowing Patrick Marleau to steal it from the Canucks and race in for a breakaway goal to take the lead.

About two minutes later, Joe Pavelski batted his own rebound out of the air to extend the lead, and they needed the cushion. With under five minutes to go in the third, Alexander Edler hit Joe Thornton who went awkwardly into the boards and did not return.

As there was nothing remotely dirty about the hit, Ryane Clowe was fortunate his response did not draw a penalty. Nevertheless, without their top centre, the Sharks looked like they were on a penalty kill (albeit a very good one) the rest of the night, dumping the puck low and running out the clock on their lead. They were out-shot 13-7 in the third.

San Jose struggled to control the puck all night, finishing with 22 more giveaways than takeaways to Vancouver's minus-three. When Boyle was inappropriately called for a slash with over 12 minutes left, it took the Canucks just 42 seconds to score and it looked like the Sharks may be in trouble.

But the team rode 35 Nabokov saves, out-hit the Canucks 39-24, and ended their streak of 11 games in which they recorded fewer blocked shots than their opponents. (One late block broke Manny Malhotra's nose.)

In the final seconds, the refs swallowed their whistles to a penalty or two on the Canucks and an icing on the Sharks: Vancouver gave up on that play, allowing Patty to find Clowe for the empty net clincher; Marleau recorded a point in all four goals.

But there was no time to glory in the hard-fought victory, and no rest for the weary. Colorado came in from Phoenix and was looking to turn around their recent slide.

The Sharks would have to go without Nabokov, Thornton, and captain Rob Blake who had recently taken a puck to the knee and needed a "maintenance" day. Thomas Greiss, Jamie McGinn, and Jason Demers took their place.

There was no cause for sympathy for the Sharks, either, as the Avs had five players on the injured list; none were stars, but they all played significant roles for the team. The Avs elected to go with Craig Anderson in net even though he had played most of the previous night's game.

Colorado's youth and speed served them well, winning every statistical category: 45-32 in shots, 29-27 in hits, 16-14 in blocks, and even won 60 percent of the faceoffs against the best faceoff team in the world.

But the Sharks gritted out a win through deflections (three of their four goals) and on the strength of Greiss' performance. The Joe Pavleski line scored three goals (one by defenceman Dan Boyle, two by Devin Setoguchi) and Jed Ortmeyer added his eighth of the year to give San Jose a sweep of the brief homestand.

Now, the Sharks are back on top in the Western Conference and look like they may stay there, given they have only three playoff teams left among their six opponents. Four of those games are on the road, but the Sharks have the second-best road record in the league and the best in the West.

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