At the outset of Thursday night's matchup between potential Stanley Cup opponents San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins, Joe Thornton's milestones of 1,000 games and 700 assists were celebrated. His teammates bought him a woolly mammoth tusk to commemorate the occasion.
It turned out to be symbolic of the night. The captain's team rested on past accomplishments instead of carrying over the intensity and fundamentals that had brought them a 5-1 road trip.
Perhaps, the fantastic television duo of Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda could focus less on cheesy humour and more on those fundamentals. They listed Thornton's Hart Trophy as a counter argument to John Tortorella's harsh critique that Joe hasn't won a thing in this league—guys, the only trophy that means anything is the Stanley Cup!
After San Jose won the opening faceoff, a giveaway led to a Pittsburgh shot. Antti Niemi missed on a poke-check and lost his stick, making things all the easier for Deryk Engelland to get his first goal of the season on the next shot.
The next two faceoffs, hits and shots belonged to Pittsburgh. While the Sharks were able to get the next two hits and faceoffs, the Penguins got two more shots and another goal.
Both goals were once again scored on the Sharks top line (35 seconds ice time), and both were assisted by Evgeni Malkin. Just 124 seconds into the game, the home team was being outshot 6-0 and outscored 2-0.
Todd McLellan decided it was time to shake things up. He jostled his lines and pulled a shaky Niemi early. While Thomas Greiss seemed to steady the team, the Sharks had three of the four giveaways in the rest of the first, won only six of 15 faceoffs and were outshot 9-4.
Off the second period faceoff, Ryane Clowe showed who the real leader on this team is. He got Engelland to make a rookie mistake and drop the gloves (citing a hard hit on Joe Thornton in the first, not the goal), then looked over to challenge his teammates on the bench when skating off after a close scrap.
(A poll at Hockeyfights.com made Engelland a narrow winner. A fight near the end of the first period between Brad Winchester and Craig Adams was clearly won by the Big Gun but lacked the effect of Clowe's: San Jose was beaten in takeaways, faceoffs and attempted shots over the remainder of the first.)
It worked. Over the next 2:31, the Sharks had the edge in faceoffs, takeaways and shot attempts, culminating when Jim Vandermeer hit Patrick Marleau at the edge of the offensive zone. Patty executed a great give-and-go with Martin Havlat, slipped through the defence and trickled a shot under the left arm of Marc-Andre Fleury.
But even though the Sharks got 16 of the next 22 shots in what has been their strongest period most of the season, they could not get over the hump. When a shot bounced off Malkin right above the foot midway through, Pittsburgh regained their two-goal lead.
The Sharks needed almost 20 minutes from that point to get their first break. A backhand by Clowe barely ricocheted off Brooks Orpik's leg, and Fleury could not keep up with the direction change; it rang off the crossbar and in, giving Havlat his second assist.
With the pressure on, the Sharks finally got some production out of their third line. A Michal Handzus one-timer from behind the net found Jamie McGinn parked in front of the crease for his first goal of the season, giving Dan Boyle his second assist.
Pittsburgh called timeout, and both teams played tight after that, but Pittsburgh did regain the momentum. They had the last four hits, two shots on goal and three missed. The Sharks also had three of the last four giveaways but blocked two shots to Pittsburgh's one down the stretch.
San Jose briefly got the momentum back in the overtime, with the opening faceoff, two blocks, shots and misses. But from there, it was all Pittsburgh: both faceoffs, all four shots and five of the seven attempts. Thomas Greiss hung on to take the Sharks to a shootout, solidifying the victory when he poked the puck away from Pascal Dupuis right after Ryane Clowe scored the only shootout goal.
In total, the Sharks were back to dominating possession, winning 39-of-64 faceoffs and finishing plus-six in giveaway/takeaway differential. This led to 15 more shot attempts but just one more on goal because they missed the net 13 more times.
San Jose was also outhit 39-25, but took only one minor penalty and thus did not give up a power-play goal. They had two power plays and did not score on either.
I agree with the great Sharks radio announcer Dan Rusanowsky on his three stars but not the order.
Evgeni Malkin (two goals and an assist) would have earned the top star had he hit his shootout attempt, but because Ryane Clowe did (goal and momentum-shifting fight aside from his shootout winner), he edges him out. Thomas Greiss stopped 29-of-30 shots with the only goal against being a bit fluky, but the performance of the two forwards pushes him to third star.
For the record, Thornton did not have a point and was on the ice for two goals for the second straight game. However, he did win 17-of-27 faceoffs, had a blocked shot and seven takeaways without a giveaway along with three shot attempts (one on net), meaning his final 22:38 on the ice was fantastic.
Spotting a team as good as Pittsburgh two goals in 2:04 is playing fire. But even if that is not something you ever want to do, it is good to know the team has the capacity to overcome it. Their sixth win in seven games gives the Sharks the fourth-best point percentage in the Western Conference.