Sharks-Blue Jackets: San Jose Achieves Franchise First with 4-0 Start
In their previous 16 seasons, the San Jose Sharks have never won their first four games. The last time a coach won his first four NHL games with a team was 2001.
But the only first I am interested in is the Sharks' first Stanley Cup Finals.
On Tuesday night, the Columbus Blue Jackets came into HP Pavilion with a 1-1 record, which included an overtime road victory over the Sharks' Pacific Division rival Dallas. The Blue Jackets have undergone an overhaul in an attempt to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Columbus features a couple of good scoring lines, one of which includes one of the world's most dynamic goal-scorers in Rick Nash. They also boast a goalie in Pascal Leclaire who was among the league leaders in shutouts last year.
The Jackets jumped out to an early lead with a power-play goal by Kristian Huselius just nine minutes into the game, and the first period ended that way. Shots and penalties were even, but the Sharks were playing more sloppily and had more giveaways.
The Sharks' giveaway deficit continued in the second (12-4)—but as has been the case in their previous three games, they took control of the game in the middle period. Despite one more penalty and one less shot, they outscored Columbus 3-1.
One of those goals came short-handed, as Leclaire's clearing pass along the boards was intercepted by Joe Pavelski. He found Jonathan Cheechoo open in prime real estate between the faceoff circles, and Cheech showed that he does not miss from there when healthy.
However, on the very next shift—and still on the power play—Columbus' Christian Backman found the back of the net to regain the lead. In all, the Sharks dropped to 82.4 percent on the penalty kill for the season, but they have scored as many short-handed goals as they have yielded power-play goals (3).
The Jackets' lead lasted less than three minutes—a shot by Ryan Clowe rebounded to the side of the net, and Milan Michalek poked it in just beyond the reach of Leclaire's left skate. Just a minute and 17 seconds later, on one of only two Sharks' power plays all game, Patrick Marleau swept in a rebound of a Devin Setoguchi shot to give the Sharks their first lead.
By the third period, the Sharks higher number of giveaways (5-1) were no longer a factor—it was much more important how big they were. Leclaire gave the puck away behind the net to Mike Grier on a Columbus power play, and he found Patrick Marleau in front of the net unguarded. Leclaire made the first save, but Marleau punched home the rebound.
The scoring ended when Joe Thornton found Marc-Eduoard Vlasic pinching in for a shot through traffic. Thornton finished plus-2 with two assists, giving him four for the year.
Vlasic was plus-4, and his defence-mate Rob Blake was plus-3. Christian Ehrhoff added an assist to keep multiple defencemen involved in the scoring for the third time in the Sharks' four games.
However, the Sharks were outshot once more (33-25) and their blue line only contributed seven shots from three players. This is certainly one of the things the team needs to work on, and get back to the way things were after their first two games.
In addition, coach Todd McLellan cited the turnovers, slow start (prevalent in all four games), and even the ability of the Jackets' first line to get shots on goal (19). In this game, penalties were a problem—taking too many and not drawing enough.
In short, the Sharks have failed to show championship form in any of their four games. They have simply taken advantage of opponents who did not play well.
In the first game, Anaheim lacked any semblance of discipline and handed the Sharks too many advantages. In the second and third games, they were playing the cellar-dwelling Kings, and still needed goalie Brian Boucher to steal one.
This one was simply a sloppy performance by the Blue Jackets. I expect the bigger tests to be coming up now—an angry Ducks team in Anaheim Friday, followed by an angry Flyers team in San Jose Saturday. Both should be better than their record, and the Sharks may not be as good as theirs.
If they win them both, it won't matter how—they will place themselves in the driver's seat.
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