The last Wild coach had been Todd McLellan's assistant. McLellan was a coach in the Minnesota system. Brad Staubitz played in Minnesota and Justin Braun grew up in Minnesota.
Okay, those last two are pretty meaningless. But there was enough familiarity to make a blockbuster trade easier. Once that was completed, the others were no big deal.
The fact that four contestants in the game played big roles on the other team the previous season was bound to be the storyline coming into Thursday's battle. But for the coaches, that was secondary to a battle between teams jockeying for position in the challenging NHL Western Conference.
Just like in their other challenges since having a full roster, the Sharks' players did not disappoint.
Antti Niemi played his best game all season. After struggling to reach regular-season form after missing training camp, he allowed just one goal on 22 shots. It should be noted that Niemi struggled last year for over two months before becoming the Sharks' player of the year for his dominance in the second half of the season.
Surprisingly, secondary assists by Brent Burns—considered the best player on either side of the trade—and Justin Braun were the only points scored by any player with ties to the other. But the Sharks worked just as hard as the less-talented Wild and thus controlled the game.
For instance, Minnesota came in with a weak power play and strong penalty kill, the inverse of the Sharks' special teams. But San Jose took fewer penalties and killed all of them while scoring on two of their five power play chances.
Both teams are strong in the faceoff circle, but it was an area of recent struggles for the Sharks. Even so, they won 31 of 55 face-offs (56.4 percent) and added two more possessions because of a better giveaway-takeaway differential.
Despite having nine more possessions, the Sharks registered one more hit than the Wild. More importantly, they did much more with those they had, too.
San Jose attempted 68 shots to Minnesota's 42. They blocked a slightly higher percentage of attempts and missed with a slightly lower percentage of attempts while scoring on a higher percentage of those that got through.
In other words, they played at least a little better than Minnesota in every phase of the game. Of course, the Sharks' biggest problem since the lockout ended has been intensity let-downs; they sometimes don't play a 60-minute game.
But they out-shot the Wild in all three periods. Even when a Dan Boyle penalty shifted the momentum almost eight minutes into the last frame, they held off the Wild's charge by winning five more faceoffs, getting five more takeaways and blocking six more shots.
They have now dug out of the small hole in which they started the season and are tied for the third-best point percentage in the NHL.
When a team as skilled as the Sharks is healthy and working that hard, they are almost impossible to beat.
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