The 2010 NHL Season has been an inconsistent one for the San Jose Sharks so far, and November has given fans little to be thankful for in teal. In fourteen November contests, the Sharks have only recorded six wins. Thanksgiving? Hardly. With the first quarter of the season now in the books, the team's inconsistency and glaring need on the blue line underscores the season.
Last night marked the return of Ottawa’s despised son, Dany Heatley, who forced his way out of town just over a year ago. While Heatley did not score, he played about as a complete a game as he has ever in a 4-0 victory for the Sharks.
Emotions figured to be high at Scotiabank Place given the amount of attention Heatley’s return had garnered during the week. The game did not disappoint, as it started out strong on both ends of the ice and had a gritty playoff atmosphere to it early.
"It definitely gets the adrenaline going a little bit more, not only for me, but I thought for both teams out there, especially early," Heatley said.
While Heatley did not score a goal in his return, he would narrowly miss scoring on two great chances in the first five minutes of the contest. Heatley would also draw the two power play penalties that led to the first two power play goals by the Sharks and assisted on the second tally.
Patrick Marleau would pot the only goal in the first period on a rebound shot from Dan Boyle. With the score 1-0 in the second, Spezza would draw a high sticking call against Heatley in the second which rained down the jeers from the Sens crowd.
Ottawa would fumble the opportunity nearly allowing a short handed goal by Nichol and Nick Foligno would have to take a hooking call as Heatley would exit the box. Justin Braun would tally his first NHL goal just a shade over a minute later with heavy traffic in front of Pascal Leclaire.
The goal seemed to take the wind right out of the Senators' sails and Logan Couture would score his first goal of the night with assists to Clowe and Ferriero. The fans at one point tried to spark the team by throwing Heatley jerseys onto the ice and continued to taunt Heatley every time he touched the puck.
The Senators, however, would not provide much of a response, limping through the final 30 minutes of the game.
For all the attention Heatley’s return would furnish, it was former Ottawa 67 Couture who would score again on a breakaway backhander slamming the door shut in the third.
Antti Niemi would post the first shutout of the season for the Sharks as he appeared to return to something resembling respectable form. Coming into the game with a bloated 3.93 goals against average, the Finnish netminder will look to build on this performance and salvage his thus far poor campaign. Making 28 saves in the victory Niemi was largely untested outside of a few chances by Chris Kelly.
Pascal Leclaire played a terrific game early, withstanding some nifty puck handling by Heatley early and stoning both Joe Pavelski and Nichol on breakaways.
It was clear that the extra motivation and emotion got the Sharks going early and powered them through the game. Heatley was simply dominating in the first period and without Leclaire answering the call, it could have been even more of a bitter pill for Sens fans to swallow.
Heatley is red hot with five goals and five assists in his last 10 games and Logan Couture continues to come of age, continuing to build upon an impressive Calder trophy worthy performance thus far.
Couture’s 10 goals lead all rookies, but one would be remiss to ignore the youngsters overall contributions, he is becoming a terrific two way player. Among team leaders in blocked shots and shooting percentage, Logan’s play just might make someone in the top six expendable very shortly.
The Sharks sitting just outside of the playoff bubble looking in, now need to put the pedal to the metal. While this Senator team is not exactly an offensive juggernaut, and struggling mightily recently, this win could very well spark the push this team needs.
Stars of the Game
Third star: Pascal Leclaire
Leclaire was nothing short of spectacular in the first period, stonewalling Heatley twice in an emotionally charged game. The Senators did the goalie no favors on the night, leaving him out to dry on the second chance after a highlight reel dangle from Heatley. Recording 29 saves in the loss, the Senators have scored just 14 times in Leclaire’s past 10 starts.
Second star: Logan Couture
The youngster just about stole the limelight late against the Senators, who couldn’t wait for the final buzzer. Couture’s emergence and aforementioned development in a rounded game, is a positive sign for a Sharks team that figures to be a player at the trade deadline. Couture’s valuable experience last year, especially in the playoffs, is going to pay huge dividends for this Sharks team.
While the Calder trophy race looks to be crowded with youngsters such as Subban, Shattenkirk, Skinner and Bobrovsky, but Couture is holding his own with 10 goals, leading all skaters.
First Star: Dany Heatley
After a sluggish start to the season, Heatley is hitting his stride with a 10 game scoring streak. Last night was as complete a game I have ever seen from the much maligned sniper. From blocking shots, dangling and deking, and hustle last night’s version of Dany Heatley was the one all Sharks fans envisioned after the blockbuster trade.
As much as I was against the move last year, it’s clear that the Sharks are the winners of the trade.
If Heatley can put it all together like this in the playoffs, he’ll have a greater impact than last year’s very quiet 11 postseason points.
Will there be a move before the usual holiday freeze on trades? Play lately certainly lends itself to that theory, with blown leads and third period collapses earmarking the Sharks' failures.
The possible trading partners are materializing now with teams who are struggling with play or the salary cap figure to make for interesting projections and trade banter for this Sharks team.
With December off on a positive note, Sharks fans will look for the team to build on this performance to finally put all the pieces together for a playoff push.