The New Jersey Devils limped into the HP Pavilion, looking to reverse their fortunes or lack thereof this season. Star sniper Ilya Kovalchuk returned to the HP Pavilion looking to build some momentum on their west coast road trip.
This matchup was a clear case of two talented yet underachieving teams trying to find their way, a preview of this game can be found here.
The San Jose Sharks had not looked particularly sharp and still seeking their first home victory. From shaky defensive efforts, poor puck control, and lackluster goaltending this Sharks team clearly was still trying to find its way post-Nabokov.
The Sharks looked just flat at times this season, with a clear emphasis on sloppy play, turnovers and lack of even strength scoring being red flags to the coaching staff.
This Devils team figured to be hungry and desperate coming into this contest, and the Sharks stressed the need to play fast through the neutral zone and focusing on even strength play.
Head coach Todd McLellan had played a bit of mad scientist this season, mixing and matching the lines in an effort to find some results. He would return to basics this game, reuniting the Big Line of Marleau, Heatley and newly appointed captain and father Joe Thornton.
Playing together for the first time this season, the top line would deliver the spark that McLellan had been seeking so far.
The results were not lost to the New Jersey Devils.
The first period would start slowly, with several big hits delivered by newcomer Jamal Mayers. Much had been made of Manny Malhotra's departure to rival Vancouver this past offseason, but Mayers thus far has been a solid contributor.
The Sharks seemed to be playing their game early despite a bad penalty, getting the puck down low and simplifying their game and limiting mistakes.
At 9:57 Joe Thornton would send a wrister past Martin Brodeur while falling to the ice, credit to Dany Heatley for the hustle play to keep the zone and a easy pass by Patrick Marleau.
The top line was just getting warmed up as their chemistry would continue to manifest itself on the second goal. A great effort cycling the puck down low would result in an easy Thornton backhanded pass to Marleau for the near point blank goal at 11:16.
Just when the Devils would think the worst was over, the top line struck again late in the first period. Jason Demers would pinch in, as Patrick Marleau would center the puck as Thornton would chip it in.
Both Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton were sitting on Martin Brodeur's doorstep as Jumbo Joe would record his second goal at 18:59 of the first period.
At 3:06 of the second period, Niittymaki would make another mistake by attempting to handle the puck on a dump-in. The puck would take a weird bounce only to find its way to Clarkson's stick and into an empty net.
The Devils would turn up the heat, taking the game to the Sharks and having some great scoring chances on Niittymaki. The Sharks got away with being too cute on a few occasions, including a horrible turnover by Vlasic halfway through the second.
The Sharks would catch a lucky bounce of their own as Heatley would throw it around the boards only to take a funny bounce just before reaching Brodeur. That odd bounce would have the puck find its way to Joe Thornton's stick as Jumbo would slam home the goal into a virtually open net at 16:55.
Ryane Clowe and New Jersey defenseman Matthew Corrente would throw down the gloves at 19:29 with Corrente looking to give his team a jump. Clowe would land a few shots but for the most part dragged this fight on much longer than it should have.
At 6:47 of the third period, Joe would again show why he's been one of the NHL's premier setup men as he would thread a beauty of a pass through the crease that my grandmother could tap in. Dany Heatley would have to suffice for those watching however as he would tap home the backbreaking goal with relative ease.
Some Sharks issues that are disturbingly familiar to fans would rear their ugly head as the Sharks began to take some lazy penalties late while having a big lead. A questionable hooking call on Clowe was killed off by the Sharks PK, only to lead up to a Heatley holding call that put the Devils back on the power play.
The Devils special teams play has been horrible this season, and coming into the Heatley penalty this team had been 0-19 with the extra skater on the road.
At 14:22 of the third period, Niittymaki would make two sterling saves on Zach Parise and Dainius Zubrus in tight. The puck would squirt out to Andy Greene who would make a deft move by kicking the puck up to the tape and roofing it over a sprawling Niittymaki.
This was a great win at home for the Sharks. Despite the Devils struggles this year, they are still a talented team who just can't put it all together. The Sharks, more importantly, found their game, taking the puck down low and doing whatever the hell they wanted with it. Three of the five goals came by way of five-on-five skating, another great sign for many Sharks fans.
The Sharks outshot the visitors 39 to 29 and while the Sharks dominated the faceoff circle, they took a lot of bad penalties, especially late.
Stars of the game
Antero Niittymaki - Say what you will about Niittymaki, but he came to play tonight continuing to show a better rebound control and superior vision than Niemi. He was not spectacular, but he made the saves when he needed to, including a late save on Kovalchuk after a Clowe turnover.
Antero notched another win, putting his season so far at 3-0-1 with a GAA of 1.84 and a sparkling .932 save percentage.
Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau - This line showed the Devils just what can happen when things are clicking, and they are firing on all cylinders. This line just embarrassed the Devils at times and were two steps ahead of the opposition the entire game.
Heatley has been sharp the past three games, skating hard and contributing but not scoring. Once he finds his goal scoring touch, he will hopefully continue to skate hard and be a force.
Joe Thornton - The big man has gotten off to a red hot start, and with the hat trick tonight, has scored five goals and seven assists on the season. For having some difficult turnovers and being part of the defensive problems earlier this season, Jumbo could do no wrong this night.
Thornton recorded his fourth career hat trick and had two assists on the night.
"It's about time." Thornton said. "We've got to start winning at home."
If Joe Thornton could ever answer his critics and silence the haters, this season is it. Some may say he's worn the "C" before and look what it reaped, and I would say he's had a myriad of teammates and none with a long standing rapport even in Boston. What will a full second season of Thornton, Marleau and Heatley bring?
What height and peaks could they reach? Will they reach this NHL season? And tonight was just a stepping stone in the right direction as Joe learns to wear the "C" the second time around and becomes the very voice this team has needed, still needs and hopefully now owns.
Sharks fans will all smile and nod their heads when seeing their captain take this team by the reins and steer them toward the ultimate prize in professional sports.
It's about time.