COLUMBUS -- A year ago the San Jose Sharks shook off a slow start to the 2010-11 campaign with a dynamite 20-game stretch that pushed them from 12th in the Western Conference in mid-January to 3rd in early March.
It certainly looks like the Sharks might be in the midst of another one of those types of runs. Patrick Marleau scored with 2:57 left in the third period to give the San Jose Sharks a 2-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night at Nationwide Arena.
The victory means San Jose is now 6-0-1 in January and 10-1-2 in the past 31 days.
"We're starting to do the things we're capable of doing -- not necessarily offensively but defensively," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "We're happy with the way it is going. We know we have a lot of work to do in a lot of different areas. Both of the strings coincidently came after five- or six-game losing streaks, so maybe that was the wakeup call we needed."
A Dec. 13 loss to Colorado was the sixth in eight games for the Sharks and left them in eighth place in the West at 15-10-3. This stretch of success started two days later with a victory against the Avalanche.
Saturday's win against Columbus pushed San Jose's lead in the Pacific Division to five points with the second-place Los Angeles Kings still to play later Saturday night. San Jose played well defensively against the Blue Jackets and found just enough offensive to keep things rolling.
"The third period, I thought we were trying to play it out instead of play it hard until they scored. Then we turned the switch back on," McLellan said, referring to Rick Nash's equalizer 6:53 into the period. "That part of the game bothers me, but otherwise pretty good defensively. There were a lot of good things tonight."
One trend from San Jose's run last season was goaltender Antti Niemi's workload -- he started 19 of the games and had to relieve Alex Stalock in the backup's only start. Regular backup Antero Nittymaki was injured at the start of that streak, just as he was at the start of this stretch for the Sharks.
Nittymaki is healthy now, but Thomas Greiss continued his strong play when called upon Saturday with 25 saves against the Blue Jackets. Greiss also made 38 saves in a 2-1 victory against the Blue Jackets nine days ago at HP Pavilion.
"Both games had their moments. Last game they had a couple of 2-on-1s right at the get go and this one was almost all the other way around," Greiss said. "They had more at the end. It was a pretty tough game at the end."
Marleau fired home the game-winner, his 17th goal of the season, on the rebound of a shot from Joe Pavelski. The original shot handcuffed Columbus goaltender Curtis Sanford, and the rebound caromed straight to Marleau in the slot.
Blue Jackets captain Nash had tied the game at 1-1 6:53 into the third period. He collected a pass from defenseman Nikita Nikitin and swept wide into the offensive zone before firing a shot from the top of the right circle past Greiss and into the top left corner. It was Nash's 16th goal of the season -- six more than injured Jeff Carter for the team lead. Nash has four goals in his past four games.
The Blue Jackets carried the play at the start of the third period and had a couple of decent chances when the score was 1-1, but were unable to build on a 4-3 victory Friday night against Phoenix in this building.
"I think after we scored we had a couple good shifts in their zone and kept getting pucks in their zone," Columbus center Derick Brassard said. "They came out one time and Pavelski just put it on net. That's tough for the goalie when the shot is low and Marleau was just in the right spot.
"Our goal was, win the game or maybe go into overtime. They're one of the best teams in the League and I think we played them hard. We got scored on [late] and that kind of hurt."
Sanford had another strong game in net for the Blue Jackets. He made 31 saves and yielded two goals or less for the fourth time in his six January starts.
"He's been awesome for us," Brassard said. "He's prepared for every game. It is unbelievable. He's been doing a really good job for us and I'm happy for him."
Ryane Clowe put the Sharks in front at 14:59 of the second period. Brent Burns hit the left post with a shot while San Jose was on the power play, and Columbus goalie Curtis Sanford was unable to corral the puck. It deflected into the air and Clowe, standing near the right post, swatted the puck into the net for his ninth goal of the season.
Clowe has been playing with a full cage on his helmet since getting cut on his cheek Tuesday in Minnesota, but he was able to see the loose puck coming toward him and make solid contact.
"What's that thing they say? If you see three, hit the middle one?" Clowe said. "I didn't see it until the last minute actually, but yeah, can't really whine about the cage when I'm doing that. I'll take it."
Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin was in the penalty box for the San Jose, but he had a chance to make up for it near the end of the second. Derek Dorsett found him alone with a pass near the inside of the left circle but Tyutin pushed the shot towards the middle of the net and into a diving Greiss.
The Blue Jackets had killed off nine minutes of San Jose power-play time before the Tyutin penalty. Four came on a Rick Nash high-stick, and three came after Dane Byers was ejected from the game for a hit on San Jose's Andrew Desjardins.
Part of the San Jose power play on the major penalty was negated because Brad Winchester was assessed an instigator minor for starting a fight with Byers after the play.
Desjardins did not return to the game and McLellan said the team will be patient in determining when he will return.
"I feel for [Desjardins]," McLellan said. "He's really starting to fit in with our team and getting more penalty-killing time. He's been a very competitive guy and to see him get hit like that -- that is exactly what we want to eliminate from the game. Exactly."