Ryane Clowe rightfully earned first star in Thursday night's game
You know those people who have to top any story you tell? Or worse, every time you get or accomplish something, they need to do it better?
That was the San Jose Sharks on Thursday.
About seven minutes into the game, Joe Pavelski won an offensive zone faceoff, and Douglas Murray put a shot on net. When the Montreal Canadiens tried to get the puck out of the zone, Pavelski stole it and fed the middle, but the Canadiens came up with it and advanced the puck.
After a dump-in wide of the net left Antti Niemi out of position, David Desharnais got the puck back to P.K. Subban. Mike Cammalleri deflected the shot from the blue line before Nemo could protect the wide side.
It marked the 15th time in 22 games the Sharks gave up the first goal of the game. Considering that, it is remarkable the Sharks have the fifth-best record in hockey (by point percentage, the only measure that does not punish a team because the NHL routinely has gaps of four games played between teams).
But the Sharks began their "Anything you can do, I can do better" routine at that time. At the end of the very next shift, Michal Handzus attempted a wrap-around and the puck squirted right to Jamie McGinn, who was where he needed to be and did what he needed to do.
Early in the second period, Pavelski turned the puck over and Desharnais raced up long the boards for a breakaway goal. This time it took two shifts before the Sharks answered.
Ryane Clowe took a Marc-Edouard Vlasic cycle up along the half-boards until he found a streaking Logan Couture in the right faceoff circle. Couture used the defenceman as a partial screen and buried the puck to the far side for his eighth goal of the season.
The last goal Montreal scored in regulation was a little harder to answer. Desharnais and Cammalleri played give-and-go behind the goal, before Desharnais came around it on Nemo's glove side. He found Erik Cole careening toward the crease with position on Vlasic for the easy weak-side one-timer at 8:46 of the third.
It was not until the final 90 seconds of the period, just as Niemi got off the ice for the extra attacker, that the Sharks answered. Couture attacked the middle and dished to Martin Havlat, who put a wrister on net. Couture barely got wood on the rebound, but Clowe was crashing the net to bury it.
Neither team scored in the overtime, setting up the Sharks' third shootout of the year.
Havlat, the second shooter for the Sharks, had his goal answered by Montreal's third shooter, Brian Gionta. Both fourth shooters (Handzus and Desharnais) buried their shots. But the Canadiens could not answer Pavelski's goal on the sixth shot and the Sharks came away with two points.
But it is too simplistic to merely say San Jose answered each of the Habs' goals. To steal a phrase from football, this game was won in the trenches.
Montreal leads the league in blocked shots, and had 23 to San Jose's 18. But the Sharks blocked a slightly higher percentage of attempts and had a better ratio of blocks-to-shots on goal.
The Sharks won 16 more faceoffs than Montreal; yet despite having fewer defensive opportunities, had the same number of takeaways and one more hit. They did have 10 more giveaways, however. San Jose were also more aggressive with the puck, with a 41-32 shots on goal edge and 76-57 edge in attempts.
This means the entire "9-Line" (Nos. 39, 29 and 9) was involved in two scores—a goal and an assist each for Couture and Clowe plus an assist and a shootout goal for Havlat. With the other score on the third line, the Sharks forwards may finally be set.
Bring on the Florida Panthers!