Finally, fans of the San Jose Sharks have seen the team at its best. Now the question is, will they play with this urgency moving forward?
Just 6:21 into the game, the Sharks had exorcised not only starting goalie Mathieu Garon, but their special-teams demons.
Torrey Mitchell was called for holding on the first shift of the game, just 36 seconds in. But Antti Niemi turned away both shots the Tampa Bay Lightning mustered.
With Martin Havlat out up to eight weeks after surgery to repair a torn hamstring, Benn Ferriero was called up from Worcester and placed on the first line with Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton. Expect to see him remain active.
After Dan Boyle sent the puck behind the goal line, Thornton and Ferriero moved it back and forth until Joe could feed Benn in front of the net. Benn knocked his own rebound in for the first score of the game and second in five games on the season.
One minute after his score, the Sharks got their first man advantage.
On the first power play shift, Thornton fed Brent Burns, whose point shot did what the Sharks hoped for when they traded for him. Pavelski backhanded the rebound over Garon's right shoulder.
San Jose kept the pressure on, and Andrew Desjardins needed just 90 seconds more to stuff in a wrap-around that Garon should have stopped, chasing him. The Sharks had eight shots and had only given up the two on the power play.
Normally, that is the Sharks' cue to start playing conservative and even casual hockey—their version of a football team running out the clock. But Tampa managed just three more shots over the final 13:39 of the first, and while the Lightning scored once, Logan Couture scored twice on the five remaining San Jose shots.
The second period was somewhat of a bounce-back period for Tampa, but hardly a case of the Sharks' letting up. They still held the edge in shots, 19-15, and killed two penalties without letting in a goal.
In the third period, the Sharks penalty kill turned back the clock, looking like the unit that used to be near the top of the league, before the calendar year 2011 saw them morph into one of the worst. They killed a double-minor and allowed just four shots.
One was a goal, but Brent Burns and Patrick Marleau had goals of their own among the 11 San Jose shots. The letdown Sharks fans have come to expect never happened, as the team's effort level stayed high.
For the game, San Jose out-shot Tampa 43-24, mostly because they blocked five more shots despite facing 15 fewer attempts. The Sharks won 10 more faceoffs, yet had one more takeaway and only three more giveaways.
And almost everyone got into the scoring. The only forwards who did not score were three who have been playing some of their best hockey of late: Mitchell, Jamie McGinn and Brad Winchester.
While Boyle and Burns were the only Sharks to score from the blue line, four forwards—Thornton, Couture, Ryane Clowe and Michal Handzus—joined Burns in scoring two points.
If the Sharks can carry this into Friday's game against the division rival Los Angeles Kings, they should go from a team losing seven of nine to one registering at least a point in six straight. (Note: Two of those games overlap, being overtime and shootout losses).
The Kings had lost four in a row before deciding to replace their coach, Terry Murray. Since his firing, they have won three of five, including Thursday night's game against Anaheim.
However, the Sharks know this team and their new coach. They will continue to be a team that plays great in its own end and limits opponents' chances as a means to victory. Only six teams give up fewer goals per game, and only four kill penalties better.
But despite being tied for 28th in penalty killing, San Jose ranks just behind L.A. in goals-against average. By contrast, the Kings rank dead last in goals scored and 24th in power play, while the Sharks rank 11th in scoring and 10th with the man-advantage.
Considering these facts and that the Kings are also coming in on the heels of a game, were playing worse and have not been playing better for as long, the Sharks must win this contest.
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