San Jose Sharks Get Martin Havlat Back, Not Scoring

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIMarch 16, 2012

Antti Niemi allowed fewer than two goals for the 15th time this season
Antti Niemi allowed fewer than two goals for the 15th time this seasonThearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Before Thursday's pivotal matchup with the Nashville Predators, the San Jose Sharks announced that Martin Havlat would be back in the lineup.

They are now out of excuses. No starter remains injured.

A team that has floundered offensively (26 goals in its last 14 games) and in the standings (nine points in that span) drastically needed Havlat to return. Even though Havlat had just two goals and 15 points in 26 games, the Sharks were a .500 team without him and a .673 team with him, and they also scored a quarter goal more per game.

In Havlat's return, the Sharks did beat a top team, but Havlat had no hand in any scoring. San Jose scored just one goal through regulation and overtime, and they needed more than 40 minutes to do so.

But Antti Niemi was up to the task, almost matching Vezina Trophy candidate Pekka Rinne save for save (32 vs. 34). After Joe Thornton's power play goal 55 seconds into the third, Niemi turned away 10 shots to his counterpart's three to secure the point for San Jose. Ryane Clowe's wrister was the only shootout goal.

San Jose now has points in five of their last six as they prepare to take on the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. (Check the following link to see the victory's impact on the Sharks in the standings.)

Detroit comes into the game banged up. Jimmy Howard has returned, but they are still without their best two players, Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom. The Wings have dropped three in a row and eight of 10 since the last time they faced the Sharks. Prior to that, Detroit dropped 13 of their last 19 to San Jose.

When a team that good needs a win this bad, the opposition better come to play.

San Jose will have to do a better job blocking shots than they did against Nashville (13-26) and winning faceoffs (32-29) while maintaining puck control (plus-one turnover differential) and physical play (17-15 in hits) if they want to maintain their winning ways against the Red Wings.