After defeating the lowly Phoenix Coyotes last night, the San Jose Sharks moved ahead of the Detroit Red Wings for the overall lead in the NHL. The 3-2 victory gave the Sharks a franchise record 109 points and, with seven games remaining for both themselves and the Red Wings, San Jose now has a two-point advantage.
Finishing first place in the NHL and therefore receiving the President's trophy for the league's best record is vastly more important to the Sharks than it is the Red Wings.
San Jose has shown they can dominate on their home ice, going 31-3-4 so far on the season inside HP Pavilion. However, despite playing over .500 on the road with an 18-12-7 clip, the Sharks have had significant stretches of poor play away from home. And when you add the road shootout/OT losses to the regulation road losses, the Sharks are no longer above .500 on the road.
In the playoffs, a loss is a loss, as losing in OT doesn't get a team anything but a big fat L in the loss column.
Simply put, despite the fact that both the Sharks and Red Wings won both home games in the season series, Detroit proved they could play well in San Jose, losing 4-2 and 6-5. However the Sharks lost 4-1 and 6-0 at the Joe in Detroit and historically have never fared well in Mo-Town.
Back to last night's contest against the Coyotes, the Sharks played well out of the gate, getting solid chances on Phoenix net-minder Ilya Bryzgalov but came away with nothing to show for it. However Sharks' Evegni Nabkov matched Bryzgalov save for save as both net-minders turned away all eight shots they faced in the opening period.
In the second, a string of odd goal scorers saw the Sharks grab a 2-1 lead.
First, the Coyotes' defenseman Kurt Sauer got his first goal in 109 games as he received a pass up to the point and made a sharp move down into the corner and attacked the Sharks net before slipping a shot past Nabokov along the ice on the far side.
Sauer's goal, which came at the 2:18 mark, would give Phoenix a lead that would last less than a minute when the most unsuspecting Shark benefited from a lucky bounce and tied the score.
Coyotes defenseman Dimitri Kalinin tried to head man a pass up the ice from his own zone but the puck hit one of his teammates in the skate and stayed in the zone, ricocheting right to Jody Shelley who had a clear lane to the net and walked in and snapped home a shot through the 5-hole of Bryzgalov to tie the score at one. It was Shelley's first goal since November 17th against Nashville.
The unfamiliar scoring would continue just over two minutes later when Sharks' rookie Tom Cavanagh scored his first career NHL goal. With winger Devin Setoguchi speeding into the Phoenix zone on the outside, Cavanagh headed straight to the net. Setoguchi then made a strong back hand pass to the net where Cavanagh deflected it up and over the shoulder of Bryzgalov to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead.
However, this is the point in the game where Sharks fans started to notice some seemingly odd line combinations with Milan Michalek playing up with Joe Thornton and Jeremy Roenick. Sharks' captain Patrick Marleau had played just three shifts in the second period before leaving the game with an undisclosed injury. There was no one play that saw Marleau suffer any injury and as of now is listed as questionable with the team not even releasing whether it is upper or lower body.
Losing Marleau for any significant amount of time would be extremely devastating to San Jose who has seen their captain have a career season.
With Marleau's absence, the Coyotes were able to get back to work after going down by a goal. With just a little over a minute gone by after Cavanagh's goal, the Coyotes' Matthew Lombardi tied the score. After the Sharks had some quality chances down at the other end, Lombardi skated out the other way 2-on-1 with teammate Shane Doan and only Brad Lukowich defending for the Sharks.
Lombardi took the puck all the way down to the edge of the crease before trying to slip a pass across to Doan. Lukowich was able to get down low to block the pass but it caromed off his stick, off his glove and underneath Nabokov's arm that would have stopped the puck if Nabokov had just reached over a split second earlier. Nevertheless, the game was know tied at two.
Six seconds after Lombardi's goal, Travis Moen of the Sharks and Daniel Winnik of the Coyotes dropped the gloves, to which Sharks commentators Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda said may have been pay back for Winnik's cheap hit against the Sharks Dan Boyle the last time these two teams met.
Each player got the other's helmet off but neither one seemed to connect solidly on any punches until Moen got Winnik all turned around and landed some solid right-hands to the back of Winnik's head and than landed on top of the Coyotes forward, in which Moen clearly came out the winner.
The remainder of the second went scoreless as both Nabokov and Bryzgalov were up to the task. Nabokov stopped a break-away by Scottie Upshall when he forced the former Flyer to the backhand and then stopped the bid with his shoulder and the puck fluttered wide.
Bryzgalov made his best save of the middle period when he turned away a tricky re-direct by who else but Jody Shelley, the Sharks' enforcer. In fact, Shelley's goal and numerous other chances led him to be the first star of the game.
In the third the Sharks got the only marker they needed to put the Coyotes away as Joe Pavelski gave his team a 3-2 lead with a power-play marker less than two minutes into the final period. After a bouncing puck was caught up in the skates of multiple players, it kicked out to Pavelski in the slot and the Sharks center settled it down before firing a wrister into the far corner/glove-side of Bryzgalov.
Sharks rookie Ryan Vesce almost got his first NHL goal on a loose puck in-tight but Bryzgalov took it of the rookie's stick before he could slide it in. Bryzgalov made 7 more saves in the period keeping his team within a goal.
However, the Coyotes werent' able to tie the score until late and were forced to pull Bryzgalov with about a minute left for an extra attacker. The Sharks were able to clear the puck effectively in the final moments and caught a break when a D-to-D pass by the Coyotes was off the mark with 10 seconds remaining and Phoenix had to exit the zone.
Phoenix tried to get one last shot off at the buzzer but were denied as the Sharks would skate away with a 3-2 victory and first place back in their hands. However, the fact that their captain missed the majority of the game made for a rather gloomy mood in the locker room which is typically upbeat after a solid win.
The severity of Marleau's injury is unknown, but if he has to miss Monday's game in Edmonton, Sharks fans are going to be increasingly worried.