The Sharks returned home after their big three-game road swing and riding high on a six game winning streak. Having beaten three of the hottest teams in the NHL by one point on the recent road trip the Sharks showed they were ready for playoff hockey.
The Sharks welcomed the reeling Colorado Avalanche in their first game of a crucial six game homestand. The last time the Avs visited the Tank was just two weeks ago, in a 4-0 shutout highlighted by Devin Setoguchi’s first career hat trick.
The season is all but over for the Avalanche, who have lost three straight and 13 of their last 14.
The last time the Avalanche won in the House of Horrors known as HP Pavilion was Feb. 6th 2008. They also have four losses in their last six games there.
In the Feb 19th matchup, Colorado slept walked off the bus immediately following their blockbuster trade with the St. Louis Blues. The Sharks took advantage and simply blew the Avs out of the water in the first period, eventually getting the victory. Colorado head coach Joe Sacco was sure to have his troops ready to ward against such a collapse in this game.
This game felt a lot like Game 1 of last year’s playoff series with the Avalanche, and the Sharks played right into the trap early on. Colorado would use their speed and hustle to shut down the neutral zone, and take away the shooting lanes for much of the game.
The Sharks would be shorthanded tonight with Scott Nichol and Kent Huskins going on IR before the game with upper body injuries. Ben Eager was also scratched because of a lower body injury, leaving room for Brandon Mashinter and John McCarthy.
Dan Boyle would sit the game out with an upper body injury, most likely sustained on hit he took in the Pittsburgh game.
Newly acquired goaltender Brian Elliott would get the nod over Peter Budaj for the Avalanche, and Elliott played an excellent game. He’s been less than impressive in his two starts thus far for Colorado, with a goulish 4.53 goals-against.
The Sharks had some tough sledding in the first period as the Avalanche speed would give the Sharks breakout some trouble. Justin Braun would have a rough time of it in the first period, as he failed to clear the Sharks zone three consecutive times midway through the first.
Torrey Mitchell was easily the best Shark for the first ten minutes of the first period and played huge all night long with Couture.
Both teams struggled to get much of anything going with just one shot on goal from both teams halfway through the opening stanza.
The Avalanche played their zone trap system to a tee, almost replicating last year’s playoff series results. Taking away time and space and getting sticks and bodies in the way, the Avs had 10 blocked shots after the first period.
Niemi would fight off another odd rebound from HP’s notoriously bouncy Zamboni side boards with just a shade over two minutes remaining. He’s just never surprised on these kinds of bounces, and he’s had quite a few of them this year from oddball rebounds.
The Sharks top line of Setoguchi, Marleau and Thornton would put together a decent surge late in the first period, but could not get one past Elliott.
The second period really was an exercise in neutral zone skating, because the Sharks just could not get through the trap for long stretches. With Colorado perfectly happy to sit back and wait out the Sharks, the Sharks would finally adjust halfway through the second.
Elliott would flat-out stone Setoguchi on a short breakaway chance after lifting Wilson’s stick at 5:52 of the second period. Antti would make a terrific sliding save to rob Kevin Porter who was left all alone with an open side of the net to shoot at.
The Sharks had quite a few more chances especially from the Couture’s line but could not get anything serious on net. The Sharks had the man advantage on the roughing penalty to John Michael-Liles late in the second.
The power play looked in fine form but missed the net several times, including a near goal by Demers. After the second period, the Sharks had held the Avalanche to just nine shots while getting nineteen on Elliott.
Niclas Wallin would take a lazy holding penalty in the opening minutes of the third period, and the Avs would take advantage. Erik Johnson would score on a long slap shot from the point for the Avs, finally opening the scoring with his unassisted goal.
With the Sharks down one, they would continue to press but fail to get the puck behind the Colorado defenders several times. Joe Pavelski would ring a shot off the top of the crossbar with just under five minutes remaining as the Sharks really began to push.
San Jose would get the equalizer with 2:58 remaining in regulation on a nifty deflection by Joe Thornton on the Demers shot from the right point.
The play would open up quite a bit from that point onward, a stark contrast to the mucking neutral zone play in the first two periods.
Douglas Murray was spectacular in the overtime frame, delivering a punishing check to Duchene and a huge diving poke check on Wilson.
Overtime could not find the winner and the Sharks would head into the shutout for their second time in the past two games.
Ryane Clowe would again provide the winning margin, faking his patented backhand move and shooting the puck just under the blocker of Elliott.
Niemi would close the door on Hejduk, Duchene and Jones in the shootout to go 15-2-1 in his past 18 games.
What worked :
Antti Niemi – Despite the Avalanche playing the zone trap and registering just 19 shots, Antti was sharp and ready to respond at every turn. He was exemplary in the shootout and just looks calm in every situation, great sign of his confidence and comfort level.
Niemi made a spectacular save on Matt Duchene late in the second period and again early in the third. Throughout the long stretches of inactivity, his razor sharp focus shows on these types of big saves.
Jason Demers – Demers would jump up to the second pairing tonight, playing alongside Vlasic and would flash some of the chemistry that they’ve shown before. Unlike the Capitals game when Vlasic went down with an upper body injury early, Demers played a solid defensive game.
Logging 23:47 of ice time and over four minutes on the power play, Demers made a positive impact on the game and limited mistakes.
On a night where the Sharks defense was shorthanded and playing with AHL call-ups, the coaching staff needed Demers to be steady and he was.
Couture Line - The Mitchell-Couture-Wellwood line was all over the place, and really was the only line that could match Colorado’s speed with any consistency. Mitchell played about as good of a game as I have seen since November when he was playing on the top line. Wellwood seems to be clicking well with Couture, and the two have some very good chemistry brewing.
What didn’t work :
Heater just needs one goal to get some of the confidence back into his game, because he’s been stone cold in the new year. Heatley took 25 shifts, and logged just under five minutes of power play time and tallied just one shot on goal. The turnovers in the offensive zone still linger, and his game is just stuck in neutral.
Joe Thornton gets ejected from the faceoff circle more than I have seen in recent memory. The Sharks were uncharacteristically off against the Avs, winning a number of their draws through the first two periods.
Much thanks goes to :
Benn would score the game-winning power play goal with just 4 seconds left in regulation, in a 3-2 Stars victory over the Coyotes. Benn does the Sharks a huge favor by picking up the win in regulation as the Sharks gain more ground in the Pacific Division. Thanks Jamie!
Up next :
The hated Red Wings come calling Thursday for the fourth game of their five game road swing. The Sharks are no strangers to playing hot teams lately, and the Wings are definitely red hot. Coming off their blowout dismantling of the Los Angeles Kings Monday 7-4, Detroit is rolling along.
The Sharks will have their work cut out for the Central Divison leading Red Wings, who sport a 22-8-2 record on the road this season. The Red Wings will be out to avenge the 4-3 loss on Feb 22nd and will have some depth players returning in Mike Modano and Valtteri Filppula.
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