The San Jose Sharks returned to HP Pavilion on Thursday to play in their first home preseason game of the season on the heels of a two-day, two-game road trip to Southern California.
The Sharks, who finished 1-1 on their road trip, out-matched the Kings on Tuesday but were overwhelmed by the new look Ducks on Wednesday. They returned home on Thursday to face their Western Conference rivals, the Vancouver Canucks.
Like several teams around the NHL, the Canucks had a much different look the last time they faced San Jose. Touting a new goaltender in Roberto Luongo and a new coach in Alain Vigneault, it was clear that this past offseason’s free agency period drastically changed the complexion of the Canucks.
The Sharks, looking to rebound from their 6-3 loss to Anaheim the previous night, jumped out to a fast start drawing a penalty on the first shift of the game and giving themselves an early man advantage.
Their hard work paid dividends almost instantly as forward Milan Michalek took a feed from defenseman Dan Spang and converted the power play opportunity just 21 seconds into the man advantage.
Keeping their foot on the gas, the Sharks drew another penalty on the next shift after Michalek’s goal. Vancouver defensman Luc Bourdon was whistled for interference just 25 seconds after the San Jose goal.
Though the Sharks did not convert on the ensuing power play, the man advantage did feature a tic-tac-toe passing play between linemates Mark Bell, Joe Thornton
and Jonathan Cheechoo.
Cheechoo gained entry into the zone as he drew the defender and was checked off the puck on the near-side half-boards. He took the hit and chipped the puck into the corner for Thornton to retrieve. Thornton then looked off a defender and found a streaking Bell in the slot for a point blank chance, but their chance was stopped by Luongo.
The teams played the remaining minutes to a draw, as the Sharks lead 1-0 after one period of play.
Overshadowed in the first period was Evgeni Nabokov’s strong play. Nabokov quietly turned aside all nine of Vancouver’s shots in the first, much to the delight of the home crowd.
To start the second period the Sharks veteran goaltender stayed true to form, withstanding pressure from the Canucks. Nabokov stopped each of the 23 shots he faced in just over 30 minutes of work including a world class glove save on a one-timer from the point during a Vancouver power play.
In addition to Nabokov’s solid play, the Sharks worked hard in the offensive zone drawing two consecutive penalties and earning a 5-on-3 power play. On the ensuing man advantage, Cheechoo would stretch the Sharks lead to 2-0 as he took a pass from Bell at the top of the circles and snuck his quick-release shot past Luongo.
At the midway point of the game, Nabokov and Luongo exited their respective goals, making way for backups Nolan Schaefer for the Sharks and former Sharks goaltender Wade Flaherty for the Canucks.
Just moments after Flaherty entered the game, the Sharks threatened and Milan Michalek popped in a rebound, his second goal of the game, just out of Flahety's reach to give the Sharks a 3-0 lead.
Despite the 3-0 Sharks lead, Vancouver would continue battling, as each team delivered punishing body checks toward the end of the second stanza. With two minutes remaining, Matt Calre took a vicious hit from behind, much to the displeasure of his teammates. After the two teams exchanged blows, each side ended up with a man in the box and Carle hopped back up on his feet.
With under a minute to play in the second, Cheechoo and Bell again connected as they drove hard to the net. Cheechoo rang a shot off the post and the rebound was left fluttering just in front of the goal. Bell chopped at the puck, but the Vancouver defender was able to clear it into empty space.
Vancouver then turned the puck the other way and converted a Sharks scoring opportunity into a two-on-one break. And with only 12 seconds remaining in the period, Vancouver got on the board as Jannik Hansen beat Schaefer on a perfect pass from Patrick Coulombe.
Hansen’s goal late in the second, seemed to jump start the Canucks as they slowly shifted the play in their favor. As the third period opened, the Canucks continued to buzz. With 11 minutes remaining in the third, Daniel Sedin had a monster of a shift winning races to the puck and keeping play alive in the offensive zone while the Canucks were on the power play.
After losing his helmet, Sedin then snuck behind four Sharks defenders and one-timed a pass from his brother Henrik Sedin to pull the Canucks within one. On their very next shift, the Sedin Twins found each other again. This time it was Henrik who was on the receiving end of a pass from Daniel as the Canucks scored three unanswered goals to tie the game.
Not to be out done, Michalek took control with just over two minutes remaining and sealed the deal. After taking a tape-to-tape pass from Mark Smith, Michalek moved in on Flaherty and beat him for his hat trick.
The Canucks threatened with a minute remaining, but the Schaefer and the Sharks defense were up to the challenge and diffused the Canucks pressure as time expired.
With the win, the Sharks improve to 2-1 on the preseason. The Sharks next game will be against Anaheim at the SaveMart Center in Fresno on Saturday. Sharks Radio play-by-play broadcaster Dan Rusanowsky will be on hand calling the game from Fresno. The live radio feed from Fresno can be found by clicking here