On the day after Thanksgiving, the San Jose Sharks played their first game against the expansion and Pacific Division-leading Vegas Golden Knights. The following night, they went against the red-hot Winnipeg Jets, owners of the second-best record in the Western Conference. These games were markedly different from most of the games San Jose has played this season.
Sharks in Las Vegas
One of the season’s most entertaining games was appropriately played in the self-proclaimed “Entertainment Capital of the World.”
In the opening period against Vegas, the Sharks were flat and goalie Martin Jones struggled. Early in the opening period, a post-hugging Martin Jones was beaten short-side by a sharp angle shot past his left shoulder. Nine minutes later, a post-hugging Jones was beaten short-side by a sharp angle shot past his right shoulder. Vegas dominated both the play and the scoreboard, leading 2-0. The Sharks finally showed some life late in the period and crept back into the game, thanks to a tally from Tomas Hertl off a feed from Joonas Donskoi.
Alas, the second period started much the way the first period started. Ten seconds in, Vegas scored a power play goal. After the score, Jones was pulled and replaced by Aaron Dell. Six minutes later, Vegas moved out to a 4-1 lead, courtesy of a William Karlsson redirect for his second goal of the game. This seemed a death knell for a Sharks team held to two goals or fewer in the first 58 minutes in each of their last eight games. The Sharks’ season record against teams scoring three or more goals in regulation stood at 0-6-0. Recent history said the Sharks were down and out.
Past was not prologue in this game. The Sharks second goal of the game came about a minute after Karlsson’s second goal, cutting the Vegas lead to 4-2. It was the first of the season for Brent Burns. A goal from Chris Tierney followed. A power-play goal from Mikkel Boedker tied the game late in the period. It marked just the second time San Jose put three goals past a goalie in a period this season.
A scoreless third period led to overtime, though the Sharks had a goal taken off the board for goalie interference, the fourth time in four games that San Jose had lost a goal on a review.
In the overtime, Vegas capitalized on a broken Brent Burns stick. With the puck in the defensive zone and Burns without a stick, he gambled on making a long change. Before Marc-Edouard Vlasic could get back into the play, the Sharks yielded the game winner.
Approaching the midpoint of the game, history said the Sharks were done. But they weren’t done and only a string of bad breaks (the overturned goal, some more-than-questionable officiating, and Burns broken stick in overtime) kept the Sharks out of the win column.
A Flipped Script
In many respects, the game against Vegas was a game of opposites for San Jose. Martin Jones, usually brilliant, had a rare poor outing. The slumping power play scored, while the superb penalty kill gave up two goals. One goal came from a player with a season-long scoring drought (Burns), while another goal broke an 18-game goalless drought (Boedker). The Sharks, a team which had yet to overcome a two-goal deficit this season, mounted a successful comeback from down three goals.
While losing on the road to the team leading in the division is never a good result, this might have been the Sharks best loss of the season. It showed the team can do things it hadn’t done all season.
Sharks and Jets Tangle
Against Winnipeg, the Sharks gave Martin Jones the start, with an opportunity to bounce back from his weak start against Vegas. And Jones delivered in a big way. At times, San Jose had trouble handling Winnipeg’s speed and the Jets peppered Jones with shots. But Jones nabbed them all. His 38 stops were the most he’s posted in a shutout.
The Sharks found offense for the second game in a row. Joel Ward appeared to score an early goal, tapping in a loose puck. Alas, the referees had blown the whistle and the score didn’t count. No matter. San Jose capitalized on a power play for the second game in a row, as Tom Heed rifled a shot past Jets goalie Steve Mason. Later in the period, Mason gave up a juicy rebound which Logan Couture deposited in the back of the net. This put the Sharks up 2-0 late in the opening period. Couture put the Sharks on the scoreboard again with a short-handed breakaway in the middle frame (he had a second breakaway later on the same penalty kill, but was unable to finish). An empty-net goal closed the scoring in the 4-0 Sharks win.
For the most part, the Sharks carried over the good things from the Vegas game and eliminated the bad things.
Sharks Turning Point?
This Sharks team is known for goaltending and defense. But they’ve suffered on the scoring front for most of the season. In the games against Vegas and Winnipeg, two of the leagues best teams, they put ten pucks into opposing nets, eight of which counted. The Sharks scoring pace has picked up, whether it continues remains to be seen.
The Sharks moved their record to 12-8-2, solidly in the playoff picture. But more importantly, they proved they can compete in games which are not low-scoring duels. They proved they can compete effectively against some of the NHL best teams. Over the course of the season, the team will win with goaltending and defense. But if the offense comes to life, the Sharks can go from being pretty good to downright dangerous. These last two games mark a potentially meaningful, positive shift.
• Joe Thornton continues his march up various all-time lists. He now sits twelfth in assists (1018). The legends he’ll pass next are Mario Lemieux (1033), Marcel Dionne (1040) and Gordie Howe (1049), and it is likely he’ll pass them all this season.
• Marc-Edouard Vlasic is, once again, having a superb season. He has six points and is a plus-8, going against other team’s best players. Vlasic earned a well-deserved third star against Winnipeg.
• Recently, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer has done some game-day roster juggling. This is in part due to injuries to Melker Karlsson and Barclay Goodrow. After a lengthy absence, defenseman Dylan DeMelo has drawn into the lineup for three straight games, with Tim Heed sitting out twice and Joakim Ryan sitting out once. Ryan Carpenter also returned to the lineup for a pair of games after a three-week absence. Against the Arizona Coyotes, Jannik Hansen had the night off, while Kevin Labanc had the night off against Vegas. Carpenter was the odd man out against Winnipeg. There is reasonable speculation that some of these moves are to showcase players for possible trades.
• Dell’s entry into the game against Vegas marked the third time this season DeBoer has pulled starter Martin Jones. This happened only three times all last season. Over two seasons, the first five relief appearances by Dell were all Sharks regulation losses. The Vegas game marked the first time San Jose earned a point when Dell entered a game in relief of Jones.