San Jose Sharks and Columbus Blue Jackets failed to get into any sort of rhythm during their 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere game at Globe Arena on Friday night, but there was plenty of tension in a close contest that featured a total of 17 minor penalties and two fights.
Logan Couture played the hero, scoring a power-play goal with 9:45 remaining in the third period to give the Sharks a 3-2 victory in a game that coach Todd McLellan said was more reminiscent of ping-pong than hockey.
"It was a strange game," McLellan said. "There was really nothing going on at 5-on-5, more ping-pong, pucks bouncing all over the place. Ninety-five percent of the chances came on power-play situations for both teams and we were lucky enough to get one more than they did."
Couture's first goal of the season came after Blue Jackets defenseman Mike Commodore was called for boarding Sharks winger Jamie McGinn, who was going full-speed in an attempt to break up an icing. McGinn crashed violently into the end boards and stayed down for about a minute before leaving under his own power. McLellan said McGinn was lucky to turn his head away from the boards and absorb the impact with his shoulder. McGinn's status will be updated Saturday morning.
It took 1:39 for the Sharks to make the Jackets pay, and it all started with a brilliant backhand pass by Sharks forward Ryane Clowe from the top of the zone to Couture at the left circle. The 21-year-old wheeled to his forehand and whipped a quick shot past goaltender Steve Mason, who was screened on the play by Sharks forward Devin Setoguchi.
"We needed one on the power play," Couture said. "We had a lot of pucks to the net and Mason made some nice saves. It was just a matter of time tonight before we got one. Seto was right in front of him so I don't think he saw it."
Torrey Mitchell opened the scoring for the Sharks, beating Mason on a wraparound just 2:11 after the opening faceoff to get the crowd into the game immediately. Mitchell capitalized on a Mason turnover by receiving a pass behind the net from Joe Pavelski, who had two assists, before curling in front and catching Mason out of position.
Joe Thornton, in his first game as captain, put the Sharks up 2-0 at 10:57 of the first with a power-play goal. His long slap shot from just inside the blue line tipped the stick of Jackets defenseman Rostislav Klesla and went over the blocker of Mason. The Sharks were 2-for-6 on the power play with the Jackets were 1-for-7.
The Blue Jackets needed only 15 seconds late in the first period to even the score at 2-2. Kristian Huselius, a native of Osterhaninge, Sweden, and R.J. Umberger scored in rapid-fire fashion just when it looked like the Sharks were taking over the game.
Huselius gave the home crowd something to cheer about when he took a cross-ice pass from Nikita Filatov and roofed the puck over fallen goaltender Antti Niemi to cut the lead in half. Umberger tied it by following a rush by Ethan Moreau, who picked up a loose puck after a turnover by defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Niemi stopped Moreau's shot, but Umberger banged home the rebound with 2:50 left in an eventful first period.
From that point on, the goaltenders stole the spotlight.
Niemi, making his first start with the Sharks after signing in early September, shut the door. He stopped all 21 shots he faced over the final two periods and 30 overall. His toughest saves came when he sprawled to his left to stop Samuel Pahlsson and Moreau on back-to-back shots in the second period. With the Jackets pressing for the tying goal in the final minutes of the third period, Niemi did some more scrambling to keep the Sharks on top.
McLellan admitted it was nice to see Niemi doing that for his team after he helped orchestrate a sweep of the Sharks as a member of the Blackhawks in last season's Western Conference Finals.
"He was a big man in the net," said McLellan, who wouldn't name a starter for Saturday night's rematch. "There's no doubt about it -- they had a fair number of chances. He fills up a lot of the net and did what he had to do."
Mason also got his game together after a tough start, keeping the game tied at 2-2 before Couture's shot through traffic in front of the net slipped past him. He stopped all 14 shots in the second period when the pressure was at its greatest from San Jose. There were plenty of chances for either team to come away with the victory, something the Jackets can put in their pocket for Saturday night.
"It was a close game, and I think we showed great character coming back from two goals down, we really worked hard," Huselius said. "I think we played a heck of a game 5-on-5. We could have won the game just as well."
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