On the flight home from Ottawa, it’s time to reflect on what has been a most eventful road trip for San Jose Sharks hockey. On this trip, the team found out a lot about itself and virtually all of it remains a very exciting sign for the prospects for the season.
Let’s look at the most important things that the Sharks found out about themselves on this little trip to the Eastern Time Zone. All of what they found relate to one word, “response,” and more specifically, “response to a variety of challenges by outstanding teams.”
It all began in Detroit, where the Sharks and their perpetual shooting gallery was met by the coach’s video preparations on the opposite side of the ice. Yes, the Detroit staff was ready for the Sharks, and what ensued was an intellectually-based chess match between Todd McLellan and Mike Babcock, a goaltending duel between Antti Niemi and Jimmy Howard, warm, soft, slow ice conditions, an irregularity in the Motor City, and a 65:00 of intense hockey where the Sharks were held to just 27 shots on goal and where Detroit mustered only 24.
Both goaltenders made some crucial stops, but none was more important than the one that Niemi made on Todd Bertuzzi in the shootout. With Logan Couture having just scored, all Niemi needed to do was stop the puck to get the win and when he was able to lift his right pad upward just enough to get Bertuzzi’s formidable attempt, the look on Bertuzzi’s face was priceless and the Sharks got out of town with two points in the standings.
On to Boston, San Jose simply dominated the action for, conservatively speaking, 59:30 of the 60:00. They outshot Boston 39-17 for the game, and forged ahead against the Bruins. But victory wasn’t to be: late in the second period, Jarome Iginla found a way to deflect one past Niemi for his first Bruins goal, and then, with 0.8 seconds left in the game, a David Krejci deflection of an Adam McQuaid shot from the point got past Niemi, and the Sharks lost for the first time in Boston since the Joe Thornton trade.
The question on everyone’s mind after that loss was, “How were the Sharks going to respond?” Their next matchup was in Montreal, on Saturday night, in front of an entire province and nation (on CBC television). All they did was skate with the speedy Canadiens stride for stride. They got a brilliant performance in all three zones from Logan Couture, who scored twice. The Quebec natives, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Jason Demers, had terrific nights, and Niemi was solid again as the Sharks won, 2-0, only their third win ever in Montreal, and first in 11 years.
But what happened in the final three minutes of that game was truly incredible. Against a solid team, the Sharks made it impossible for the Canadiens to pull goaltender Carey Price in the third period. Montreal simply couldn’t get far enough up ice to do it. In the third period, the Sharks played essentially three lines and used Joe Thornton with James Sheppard and John McCarthy, who did an outstanding job when called upon to play great defensive hockey. With Vlasic and Justin Braun shutting things down, the Sharks simply put on a clinic that was incredibly impressive.
The very next day, San Jose had everything working against them: an afternoon start against a team that was rested and ostensibly motivated, given a 50-shot performance by the Sharks against them at SAP Center just a few weeks before. The Sharks were going with Alex Stalock in net for the first time, giving Niemi a game off after 11 straight starts.
What happened wasn’t the prettiest of games, but the Sharks also chose to show how it would respond to a satisfying, successful night. They didn’t have their legs, which was understandable, but Stalock had a great first NHL start with 38 saves, including 16 in the first period when the Sens really were going for the kill.
San Jose found out after the warmup that Matt Nieto was not going to be able to play, and although that looks like a short-term situation, it changed the plans for the evening. But Andrew Desjardins and James Sheppard came up with their first goals of the season, Tomas Hertl ended a goal-scoring drought, the Sharks scored in the opening 1:30 of the first and 3rd periods, Tommy Wingels scored a shorthanded goal, and Joe Pavelski finished off the Sens with a deflection on a give-and-go with Justin Braun, who continues to be mighty impressive.
All in all, the Sharks are showing that they are up for virtually any challenge, and every member of the team is making a contribution and commitment to the cause.
Now, it’s on to Los Angeles to finish the trip. The challenges will continue to mount, but so will the excitement.