With yet another injury at the center position, as Sharks youngster Tomas Plihal will be out of the lineup, head coach Todd McLellan did some juggling with his forward lines prior to Tuesday night's game against the Edmonton Oilers.
Not only does Plihal join Goc, Roenick and Mitchell as Sharks centers on the injured list but a 1-1-3 road trip also made it easier for the Sharks head coach to make some changes.
The absence at center gave Sharks captain Patrick Marleau the chance to return to the position where he has spent the majority of his 12-year NHL career. Marleau found himself centering the third line between wingers Mike Grier and Jonathon Cheechoo against the Oilers.
The move paid off as the Sharks dispatched the Oilers by a 4-2 final inside the Shark Tank on Tuesday.
Changing the lineup in such a manner gave the Sharks three top-tier scoring threats on each line with Thornton and Pavelski centering the top-two lines.
However, with captain Patrick Marleau centering the "third" line, giving each line a numerical value seems pointless. Each of the top three lines against Edmonton deserved to be called the No. 1 line with their performance against the Oilers. And Marleau's "third" line was the best forward combination on the ice on Tuesday.
The game itself was a feisty one as the Oilers have been known to mix things up in the physical aspect of the game. However 56 of the game's 66 penalty minutes would come in a rough and tumble second period.
In the first, the Sharks got on the board first when Joe Pavelski notched his 17th of the season at 10:08. Pavelski's fourth straight game with a goal gave the Sharks the first goal of the game for the first time in six games.
The Sharks lead would be short lived however, as just over two minutes later, Oilers tough guy Zack Stortini chipped in a rebound after a scramble in front of Nabokov at 12:18 of the opening period.
Intensity would simmer down for the remaining part of the opening period as the score remained tied until late in the first when Dan Boyle was called for a tripping penalty at 18:12. On the ensuing power-play, an odd bounce on Sheldon Souray's dump in rebounded off the boards behind then net and out in front of the Sharks net.
With Nabokov having gone behind the net where he thought the puck would end up, the fortuitous bounce gave Oilers forward Erik Cole an empty net to shoot at and Cole made no mistake by putting it home for the 2-1 advantage.
The Oiler lead wouldn't last long into the second period however as the Sharks captain tied the score at two with his 31st of the year. At the 1:48 mark of the period, Marleau received a pass from Jonathan Cheechoo at the Oiler blue-line and chipped the puck past the defender, skated past the defense, picked up the puck himself and snapped home a wrister, glove-side, top-shelf.
In this second period, the Sharks found themselves in even more penalty trouble. Two tripping penalties less than 30 seconds apart gave the Oilers an extended 5-on-3 advantage at the 3:30 mark. San Jose was able to keep Edmonton from scoring on the 5-on-3 and Patrick Marleau came out of the box to make it a 5-on-4.
After the Oilers nearly scored, Mike Grier picked up the puck in his own zone and skated out on a 2-on-1 with Marleau. Grier skated wide into the Oilers zone on the right-wing, and with Marleau busting hard to the net, fed him the puck past the defender and onto the stick of the Sharks' captain and Marleau tapped it in to an gaping net for an easy short-handed goal.
A few minutes after Marleau's short-handed goal, the rough stuff got kick-started. At the 7:10 mark of the second period Sharks defenseman Alexei Semenov and Oilers defensman Jason Strudwick dropped the gloves for a short-scrum that ended up being 4 each for roughing.
Before the next puck drop, Claude Lemieux dropped the gloves with Oilers defensman Theo Peckham. The short scrap saw Peckham and Lemieux get five minutes each for fighting but Lemieux was also hit with a ten minute misconduct for continuing to fight after the linesmen had already intervened.
Numerous minor altercations continued throughout the second period as it was rare to not see a bit of a scuffle after a whistle in the middle period of play. However this rough and tough style of play that is usually evident in the Oilers style of play didn't benefit the visiting team as the Sharks out-scored Edmonton 3-0 in the middle frame.
With a little over a minute left in the period, a back-checking Joe Thornton stole the puck from the Oilers defense and fed linemate Lukas Kaspar for a one-timer. Kaspar broke his stick on the shot and the change-up fooled Oilers goal-tender Dwayne Roloson whose kick save rebounded to an unfortunate area for Edmonton.
Setoguchi nearly wacked home the rebound before the puck landed on Thornton's stick and the Sharks center deposited it in the back of the net for the two goal lead. The game would head into the final 20 minutes with the score the Sharks up by the count of four to two.
The game would also end by the score of four to two as Evgeni Nabokov turned away all 13 Oiler shots in the third period. Not only did Nabokov return to form after allowing 11 goals over the past two games, but the Sharks defence, led by Marc-Eduard Vlasic gave the Oilers fits in the final moments.
With Semenov in the box for delay of game, the Oilers went on a 6-on-4 advantage when they pulled Roloson for an extra attacker. The Oilers were denied of multiple scoring opportunities by the perfectly played defense by Vlasic.
The Sharks youngest defensman (at 21 years of age) got his stick in the passing lanes and was able to cut of passes twice before clearing the puck out of his zone two different times on his final shift.
A well-played game by the Sharks on Tuesday shows that San Jose can still find ways to win without their full compliment of players. In fact the three stars of the game were all three members of the brand new "third" line of Marleau, Grier and Cheechoo.
The win now gives San Jose some much needed breathing room in the standings. With 85 points on the season, the Sharks are three in front of the Red Wings for first place in the western conference. They have also played two fewer games than Detroit, as well as three fewer games than Boston, who is currently three points ahead of the Sharks for the top spot in the NHL.
San Jose expects to welcome back center Jeremy Roenick, and defenseman Brad Lukowich into the lineup sometime on this current home-stand.
Sharks vs Kings
Thursday @ 7:30pm
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