Sharks-Kings: Evgeni Nabokov Returns, Shines in Shootout

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IMarch 15, 2009

In a battle of goaltenders, the Sharks' Evgeni Nabokov outlasted Kings counterpart Erik Ersberg in a seven-round shootout, as the Sharks prevailed by a final score of 2-1.

The Sharks welcomed back both Nabokov and defenseman Rob Blake, who had missed seven and two games, respectively. Both returned to help San Jose fend off a hard-working Los Angeles Kings club that has collectively registered the most hits of any team in the league.

Blake ate up over 24 minutes of ice time and was credited with six shots on goal, while Nabokov stopped 23 of 24 shots in regulation and overtime combined and then fended off six of seven L.A. shooters in the shootout.

Though the Sharks' Dan Boyle was billed as the game's big star, one could make a case that Kings backup netminder Ersberg, who started in goal on Saturday, deserved more recognition, depite his team losing.

He turned away 38 of 39 shots in regulation and overtime combined and stopped five of the seven Shark shootout attempts.

The game started out extremely high-paced, as the first period went back and forth with minimal whistles; that helped create a nice flow to the game.

Though the final shows the contest to be a low-scoring affair, the Sharks got on the board less than six minutes in and looked like they might run off a string of goals. 

At the 5:28 mark of the opening period, Milan Michalek cashed in for his 19th goal of the season.

The play started out with Sharks winger Ryane Clowe controlling the puck low on the boards; he got it free to Joe Pavelski near the blue line. Pavelski then gave it up to Boyle at the point, and then Boyle back-skated towards the left point and fed the puck back to Pavelski, who had curled up on the other point.

The Sharks center then wristed a shot-pass right onto the tape of Michalek, who had been tapping his stick for the pass, and the Sharks' winger re-directed the puck past Ersberg for the 1-0 lead.

Less than 30 seconds after the Michalek goal, Sharks rookie enforcer Brad Staubitz laid a solid hit on Kings defenseman Jack Johnson that caused Kings enforcer Raitis Ivanans to initiate a fight with Staubitz. Ivanans basically bear-hugged Staubitz, and neither player landed any quality punches.

The rest of the opening 20 minutes flew by: A first period typically lasts 45 minutes from the registered start time, but Saturday's opening period was just 36. Each team traded chances, and there were very few stoppages. The Sharks maintained their goal advantage heading into the second.

San Jose's advantage didn't last long into the middle period, however, as the Kings tied things up just 41 seconds into the second.

Jack Johnson blasted a point-shot that rebounded loose to Kings center Michael Handzus, who backhanded a short pass to Frolov, who fired one to the net that Nabokov couldn't handle cleanly.

Then, in came the final Kings forward on the line, Wayne Simmons who slid the rebound under Nabokov for his sixth goal of the season.

For the remainder of the middle period, the teams traded power-play opportunities, but both goaltenders were up to the task, especially Ersberg, who started to take over the game.

Three of his 10 saves in the middle period were of the spectacular variety. First, he stopped a rocket-powered one-timer from Blake and then blocked the ensuing rebound off of Vlasic, who had a great look from in close. Still, neither compared to the robbery that was the glove save off Sharks forward Ryane Clowe, who was all alone in front of the net and tried to go upstairs with the wrister. Ersberg simply shut the door.

In the final period, Ersberg continued to be the player of the game. The Sharks outshot the Kings 13-4 in the final period but could not find a way to beat Erik for the go-ahead goal.

With time running down, the Sharks were on the power-play and Ersberg robbed Blake again with a nifty glove save from in-tight.

The San Jose power-play would continue in overtime, and they now were employing the more dangerous four-on-three attack. But quality penalty-killing by the Kings defenders forced San Jose's best opportunity to come from the point.

And once again, Blake pounded a one-time feed from Thornton only to find Ersberg's glove.

Nabokov had to chip in with his two cents in overtime, as well, as he took a shot off his mask through a screen and then alertly pounced on the puck that was sitting in the crease right behind him.

This one would need a shootout.

The home team Sharks' coach Todd McLellan decided to shoot first and sent out Dan Boyle to kick things off. Boyle skated in and tried to make a move from backhand to forehand, but the puck jumped on him and slid off his stick before he could get a shot off from in-tight.

First up for the Kings was Anze Kopitar, who skated in on Nabokov and made a nice move to the backhand. But Nabokov stayed with it all the way, and Kopitar had little room to sneak the puck in on the short side; his backhander hit the post.

Next up for the Sharks was Joe Pavelski, who is famous for his quick release and laser-like wrist shot. He skated in with speed, then slowed his momentum to a near-stop to throw off Ersberg and fired a hard wrister through the five-hole to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead.

Jack Johnson followed for the Kings. L.A.'s young defenseman skated in on Nabokov and beat the Sharks' goalie stick-side between the blocker and pad, as Nabokov had gone for the poke-check and missed.

Milan Michalek went third for the Sharks, but Ersberg showed him the five-hole and then took it away, as Milan tried to split the pads but was denied.

Kings captain Dustin Brown then had a chance to win the game for his club, but his wrist shot sailed wide.

McLellan threw his captain, Patrick Marleau, on the ice to try to give the Sharks a lead, but Marleau (like Michalek) was teased into shooting for the five-hole. Again, Ersberg closed the pads just in time to stop the bid.

Kings defenseman Drew Doughty hopped out for the Kings with a chance to win the game. He skated in on goal and made a nice deke forehand-backhand-forehand, but Nabokov was able to come up with a nifty glove save as he stayed with Doughty all the way.

In the fifth round, Ryane Clowe was up for San Jose; he made his favorite move, a simple forehand-to-backhand attempt, but Ersberg forced the shot wide.

Once again, the Kings had a chance to win the game, as they called upon Alexander Frolov. Unfortunately for the L.A. faithful, he ripped a shot high and wide.

The Sharks' Devin Setoguchi was next to try to put the Sharks ahead, but his move to the backhand failed as the puck jumped on him a bit. Ersberg was right with him, stride for stride.

Michael Handzus would shoot next for Los Angeles, but his attempt was once again turned aside by Nabokov.

McLellan threw out Jonathon Cheechoo in the seventh round, which made this the longest shootout in Sharks history. Though he has been much maligned since putting up 56 goals back in 2005-06, it was Cheechoo who gave the Sharks their final lead.

He skated in from the left and faked, pulling the trigger as he skated to the right, and got Ersberg to go down. He then beat the Kings netminder glove-side to put his team in front.

Teddy Purcell would be the last chance for the Kings as he skated in on Nabokov. He came in with speed and made a move to his backhand, but Nabokov stayed with it all the way and knocked the puck away with his pad to win the game for the Sharks.

Many Sharks fans are still concerned with the lack of scoring, as San Jose has only registered 18 goals in their past 10 contests and were only able to defeat the Kings thanks to Nabokov's stellar performance in the shootout. San Jose also came up empty on eight power-play opportunities.

Still, the Sharks are 2-1 over their last three, and there have been major signs that this team is turning things around.

Despite blowing a lead in Minnesota, they were able to pad their lead after losing the momentum. Then, when the Wild tied the score, they found away to bounce back and win in overtime.

In their 3-1 loss to the Blues on Thursday, the Sharks were down 2-1 for most of the game, but continued to create chance after chance in the Blues' zone. The 3-1 final score was due to an empty netter in the last minute of the game. The game-winning goal was one that Brian Boucher shouldn't have let up; it most would have most likely been stopped by Nabokov.

And finally, the 2-1 shootout victory over the Kings showed that the Sharks are sniffing a return to their dominant offense that propelled them to an insane start to the season. Yes, they only scored one goal in regulation in the most recent contest, and couldn't beat Ersberg in overtime despite a power-play advantage, but they were able to control the pace.

Putting up 39 shots is not an everyday occurrence, and the Sharks were able to keep pressure on the Kings defense all game long.

And even though they went 0-8 on the power-play, it is also important to look at the fact that they drew eight different penalties, which means they are moving their feet and driving the net. Those are two of the main things they weren't doing in their recent slump.

This afternoon, the Sharks face the Ducks down in Anaheim, and hopefully they can continue creating multitudes of offensive chances. Watch out, because sooner or later, pucks will start going in.


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