Another page to the chapter of history between the San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings began anew Thursday night at HP Pavilion. And like many recent stories, the game was a hard-fought contest with the gritty feel of a May playoff contest.
While the Sharks have struggled for most of the season this year, they have reversed their fortunes in the New Year. Posting a 16-2-1 record in their past 19 games, the Sharks had won seven straight games and and hadn’t lost as the host since Jan. 13. Behind this second-half surge, the Sharks were sitting just four points ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes in the Pacific Division.
The Red Wings had a winning streak snapped last night, but hasn’t been as dominant in the second half of the year. Despite those inconsistencies of late, they still sported a dominant 22-8-3 marker on the road this season. The Wings were riding a six-game winning streak before a Bobby Ryan penalty shot in OT snap their run.
Before the Red Wings endured that loss, they hadn’t lost a game on the road since February 5, and had won their last three at HP.
This was quite easily the biggest game for the Sharks this season, with a chance to close within three points of the second seed in the West. The Sharks are no stranger to playing the hottest teams in the West, having dispatched four contenders in the past five games.
Jimmy Howard and his NHL-leading 31 victories would take the night off, with backup Joey MacDonald getting the nod. Brian Rafalski would sit out his fourth straight game with back spasms for the Detroit Red Wings.
Dan Boyle would miss his third straight game due to an upper body injury for the San Jose Sharks.
Head coach Todd McLellan put emphasis on starting early in pregame interviews, and the Sharks took heed in the biggest game of the season so far.
The Sharks took the game early and often to the vaunted Red Wings, carrying play deep in the attacking zone for long stretches.
With about four minutes left in the first half, Patrick Marleau jumped into the play from the blueline. Using his speed, he drew two Wings across the zone, leaving Ian White all alone.
Dany Heatley knocked in the Ian White shot past MacDonald to open the scoring at 3:51 of the first period.
After just five minutes of play, the Sharks held a 9-1 advantage in shots on goal and continued to press the play. Joe Pavelski had two great chances just a few seconds later and the Wings would have to ice the puck to settle things down.
Niemi made several huge saves including a huge one against Abdelkader shortly thereafter, he’s just feeling it right now. A huge scrum shortly thereafter in the crease again found Niemi coming up with a huge save versus Hudler.
A Red Wing goal would be called off on a interference call on Johan Franzen, but the lead did not last much longer.
The Sharks could not clear the puck following the Braun delay of game penalty, and the Wings would draw even on the power play. Modano’s shot from the point turned into the Tomas Holmstrom’s deflection past Niemi for the equalizer.
Things got chippy late as Douglas Murray just cleaned Cleary’s clock at mid-ice, and Joe Thornton would retaliate after getting his stick held.
Think the Sharks don’t know what’s coming? McLellan sent out Mayers on Thornton’s line late and Mayers would get right into Kronwall’s face following the dust-up—gee what are the chances of that?
Heatley scored again nearing the four-minute mark of the second period on the a hooking penalty to Holmstrom, on a set play that worked quickly off the faceoff and resulted in Heatley tipping it in.
The Red Wings responded, outshooting the Sharks to the tune of 19-6 through the midway point of the second period. The Wings outshot the Sharks 12-6 in the second and responded to the score, but the Sharks answered right back in the third.
Again taking the play to the Red Wings and forcing MacDonald to stand on his head multiple times. Devin Setoguchi and Jamal Mayers had two great scoring chances turned aside in the first half of the third.
Then Macdonald got a little lazy with the puck and attempted a clearing play that rebounded off of Marleau and into the net. Missing on the clearing attempt, Macdonald’s error gave the Sharks the winning margin 3-1 with 4:12 left to play
Dany Heatley: Heater broke out of a dry spell that stretches back to the middle of January, and recorded his fourth multi-goal game of the season—a great sign for the Sharks who need Heatley’s scoring touch down the stretch and into the playoffs. Heatley played a completely different game tonight than he has during his cold stretch, playing with confidence and getting to the tough areas of the ice.
As stated in the Avalanche recap:
“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.”
Playing nothing like the Heatley for the past two months, he looked engaged and confident from the beginning of the game. Hard to fathom he had just logged a grand total of three shots for his last 14:34 of power play time. The Marleau-Clowe-Heatley line was on fire and looked pretty good throughout the game.
His hustle level is like it was at the beginning of the season, and that can only mean good things for the Sharks right now. His backcheck on the boarding penalty in the first, broke-up a 2-1 situation and if his scoring touch is back that could spell trouble for the rest of the Western Conference.
Jason Demers: Another game without Dan Boyle, another game with 22 minutes of ice, four minutes on the power play and another very solid contribution from Demers. He’s simplifying his game and using his head when he decides to jump into the play and leading a good breakout.
Instead of sitting Demers to gain some perspective on his game, it appears that the coaching staff’s decision to let him play is paying off. The Vlasic-Demers pairing is starting to click with a good chemistry, and that adds another wrinkle to the Sharks with Ian White’s acquisition.
Justin Braun: This kid played a pretty darn good game against an elite team for being in the AHL just a few nights ago. Playing alongside Douglas Murray on the top pair, he played 17 minutes and did it steadily. He had a good game.
What didn’t work
The power play looked a little sloppy and it shows how things can be without Dan Boyle. Boiler should take as much rest as he needs, but there’s a big drop-off in the power play. The power play with no shots on goal is one thing, but the turnovers leading to multiple odd-man rushes are something else.
The Mitchell-Pavelski-Wellwood line had some great chances late but Eager is much better on this line than Mitchell is, and the Sharks would do well to go back to that line.
What it means:
The Sharks are now six points ahead of Los Angeles and Phoenix in the Pacific Division and while it’s not a large lead it’s breathing room. With a record of 38-21-6 for 82 points, the Sharks climb within three points of the Red Wings.
With the Canucks being blanked by Pekka Rinne and having lost their third game in five, the Sharks inch closer to the top seed with the big win at home.
For those who want to say that the Red Wings were playing their third game in five days, the Sharks were ready and showed it tonight. Both teams know it’s likely that they will face off for the fourth time in the playoffs, and the Sharks showed what they can do against the Red Wings.
Winning the season series may mean nothing come the playoffs, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
The shuffling of the lines is not slowing this team and the steady defensive commitment is a great sign for Sharks fans. This team is ready for the playoffs and last year’s run will only build this core’s confidence moving forward.