San Jose Sharks Beat Red Wings in OT; Martin Havlat Has Given Team New Life

Simon Cherin-Gordon@SimoncgoContributor IIIMarch 18, 2012

SAN JOSE, CA - DECEMBER 01:  Martin Havlat #9 of the San Jose Sharks in action against the Montreal Canadiens at HP Pavilion at San Jose on December 1, 2011 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The San Jose Sharks opened the 2011-12 season 1-3-0. They only managed to score three goals in one of those first four games, and the team needed a boost.

Luckily, their big offseason addition at forward, Martin Havlat, made his Sharks debut in game No. 5. The Sharks proceeded to go on a 16-7-3 run, during which they reached three goals in 18 of 26 contests.

Then Havlat suffered a freak injury during a line change on December 17th against Edmonton. He would miss the next three months, and the Sharks would miss him.

The team would go 16-16-7 over those three months, reaching the magic three goals a mere 17 times.

On Thursday, Havlat made his return to the lineup once again, and his impact has been more obvious than ever. The Sharks are 2-0-0 since his latest return, pushing their record with Havlat to 18-7-3 on the season. Without him, they are 17-19-7.

The reasons that San Jose wins with Havlat and lose without him are are both obvious and subtle, and will be addressed later. But in Saturday night's win over the Detroit Red Wings, Havlat was simply the best player on the ice.

That isn't to say that he was the only Shark who played well. The Sharks' top line scored during their first shift at :48 and would continue to apply pressure throughout the game. Joe Pavelski was the one who netted that opening goal, and he bombarded the net all night with a game-high six shots on goal.

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The first period was even from that point forward. San Jose had an excellent power play at 9:57, but Jimmy Howard had an even better penalty kill. Detroit's first man advantage came at 14:52, resulting in pressure but again no goals.

SAN JOSE, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Joe Pavelski #8, Joe Thornton #19, Patrick Marleau #12 and Colin White #5 celebrates after Pavelski scores a goal against the Calgary Flames at HP Pavilion at San Jose on February 8, 2012 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by The
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

In what wasn't the first nor the last time he did this, Martin Havlat snuck up ice for a stretch pass late in the period. His timing and anticipation were perfect, and linemate Patrick Marleau moved the puck from blue line to blue line. Havlat used Brad Stuart as a screen and fired a laser between Jimmy Howard's pads at 18:23.

Pavel Datsyuk one-upped Havlat just 23 seconds later with a goal that only he could score, beating Antti Niemi from an impossible angle. The first period ended 2-1.

San Jose came out strongly in the second period, continuing to apply pressure. After getting goals from the top two lines in period one, the third line started to get into the game in period two.

Torrey Mitchell had a great night, a common occurrence as of late. He was active, physical, fast and hungry for pucks. His linemate Dominic Moore was aggressive all night, while Daniel Winnik had his best game as a Shark. He dished out four hits, was awesome on the forecheck and played big in his own zone.

The second period saw no goals scored, nor did the third until San Jose hit a rut a few minutes in.

The Sharks began to get sloppy in their own zone, lazy in the neutral zone, struggled with clears and soft on Detroit's entries. When teams play like this, they get scored on. After one of Marc-Edouard Vlasic's worst sequences of the season in which he failed to clear the puck twice and committed an ugly turnover just outside the zone, Valtteri Filppula tied the game on a deadly short-side wrister at 8:12.

SAN JOSE, CA - FEBRUARY 28:  Daniel Winnik #34 of the San Jose Sharks skates in warm ups before the game against the Philadelphia Flyers at HP Pavilion at San Jose on February 28, 2012 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Sharks cleaned up their play a fair amount from there on out, and the rest of regulation was fairly even. The teams went into overtime tied at 2-2.

The Sharks came out in OT like a team desperately trying to earn an all-important extra point. That was a good sign right away. The Sharks came into Saturday night's game a dismal 1-5 in OT, which was in large part due to a lack of drive to score that game-deciding goal. While the Sharks are a more successful 7-5 in shootouts, regualtion/overtime wins are the tiebreaker this year.

As it always happens in four-on-four OT, there were some good chances both ways. Ultimately, however, the Sharks controlled the period, outshooting the Wings 5-1. With under two minutes to go, Dominic Moore came across the blueline. He moved the puck to Martin Havlat, who fired his fourth shot of the night towards Jimmy Howard.

The rebound came out to Justin Braun, whose attempt was also fended off. But Havlat crashed the net, found the puck and smoothly pulled it out of a scrum before calmly burying the game winner at 3:23 of OT.

Havlat ended the night with two of San Jose's three goals, five shots, a plus-two rating and zero giveaways. He was the best player on either side, but Havlat's impact can be just as significant on nights where he doesn't light the lamp.

Marty brings so many dimensions to San Jose's lineup. His speed is excellent, and his ability to stretch the ice may be tops on the team. On three separate occasions last night, the Sharks worked the puck down to Havlat on stretch passes. Not one of these plays had Havlat taking a risk defensively, and not one time was he caught offsides.

These plays resulted in two shots on goal, one of which went in. This brings up another of Havlat's skills: shooting. Havlat is simply a gifted goal scorer who has great touch, accuracy and timing. He averages 27 goals every 82 games in his career, making him the Sharks' third best goal-scorer after Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture.

Havlat's puck-handling skills, creativity and puck-possession ability are simply invaluable. Joe Thornton has been the only Sharks forward who can create for others on a consistent basis since Havlat's injury, and Joe can only play on one line. Having Havlat on the second line allows for Ryane Clowe and Patrick Marleau to play off the puck more, and it allows for the line to spend more time in the offensive zone.

Havlat's offensive skill set and decision-making truly transform San Jose's second line. But his presence in the lineup impacts every line equally. The top line no longer has to be the only line that can control the puck in the offensive zone and generate chances shift after shift. The pressure this takes off of them and puts on opposing defenses is sizable.

Havlat's presence also allows the Sharks to slip other forwards into their natural roles. The three forwards filling Havlat's spot were Daniel Winnik, Tommy Wingels and Benn Ferriero. Not only did these three completely marginalize the second line, but their true value was lost.

With Havlat back, Winnik has had two monster games on the third line. Ferriero and Wingels can play their fourth-line roles. Marleau and Clowe can play with a guy who will open up ice rather than take it away.

The San Jose Sharks are in eighth place and still do not look like they're a true contender. And while Havlat has given the team a huge boost, his impact could lessen once the emotional "oomph" of his return wares off.

However, those who closely follow this team have cited a lack of energy, speed, offensive zone time, ability to finish (score on quality chances) and ability to finish (score big goals) as the things dooming this team. It has been clear that the team needed a top six forward who could ignite the offense.

The fact is, Martin Havlat is that guy. The team has won with him in the lineup all season long, even after appearing dead in the water for nearly two months. Maybe it won't last, maybe someone else will get injured, maybe the team still isn't good enough. But Doug Wilson built this team to be successful and compete for a Cup, and Martin Havlat has proven to be an indispensable part of that plan all season.


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