The Sharks returned to action at HP Pavilion on Saturday night and with the return to San Jose came the return of the Sharks winning ways…and the Sharks offense, which has been elusive as of late.
Behind the dominant play of the Sharks top-line, Patrick Marleau
, Dany Heatley and Logan Couture
, and the stellar play of goaltender Antero Niittymaki, the Sharks cruised to an impressive 5-2 victory over the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning.
Couture, who was filling-in for Sharks Captain Joe Thornton
who served the first game of his two-game suspension handed down earlier this week by the National Hockey League for what was ruled as an illegal hit vs. the St. Louis Blues, made his presence felt, contributing a goal and an assist and keeping the Tampa Bay defensemen on their heels throughout the night. Couture netted the first multi-point game of his career (1 goal, 1 assist = 2 points).
But the high-level of play of Couture didn’t come as a surprise to Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan.
“We have a ton of confidence in Couture. He’s been one of our top forwards right from training camp on through and we feel really comfortable playing him in all situations,” said McLellan after the game. “I’m not surprised that he had the ability and the confidence to go into that spot. The fact that each of them got on the scoreboard was a nice reward for the game that they played. Not only did they play well in the offensive zone but they played pretty good defensively against some pretty good players.”
The Sharks are now 5-0 when Couture registers a point and Couture is now tied with Thornton for second on the team in goals this season (5).
In addition, Marleau netted two goals in the first period including the Sharks first shorthanded goal of the season while Heatley netted his sixth goal of the season in the second period. Marleau leads the NHL in shorthanded goals since the start of the 2008-09 season.
Equally impressive was the play of netminder Antero Niittymaki, who was facing his former team for the first time since he signed with the Sharks as an unrestricted free-agent during the summer.
“It was nice to face a lot of shots early on. It keeps you in the game a little better,” said Niittymaki. “They were tipping a lot of pucks. They’re really good at it. I got lucky a couple of times, but I think we did a pretty good job in front of the net and with second and third chances.”
Thus far, slowing down the Tampa Bay offense has proven to be a tall order for goaltenders around the League as NHL leading goal-scorer Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier lead the offensive charge for the Lightning. But Niittymaki was more than ready for the challenge of friend and former teammate Stamkos, turning away 33 of35 shots, some in spectacular fashion including a breakaway at the end of the first period that seemed to give the Sharks a boost of confidence for the remainder of the game.
“You have to be aware of where (Stamkos) is at all times. He’s a shooter. He can shoot the puck probably better than anybody in the League,” added Niittymaki. “You have to know where St. Louis is, he’s probably going to pass the puck to (Stamkos). You just have to read it.”
Marleau sparked the Sharks offense early scoring the Sharks first goal, a short-handed slap shot that he ripped past Lightning goaltender Mike Smith at 12:16 of the first period. It was the first short-handed goal for the Sharks this season and it broke a scoring drought for the Sharks which reached 1 hour, 56 minutes and 59 seconds before Marleau finally lit the lamp. It was the third-longest offensive drought in franchise history.
Later in the first period with the score tied 1-1, Marleau added his second goal of the game, this time on the power play to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead. It was the 43rd multi-goal game of Marleau’s career.
Also contributing to the offensive output on the evening were Sharks defensemen as Dan Boyle
contributed two assists and Jason Demers
added an assist.
It was the third consecutive game at HP Pavilion at San Jose that the Sharks won by a score of 5-2. With the victory, the Sharks improve their record to 6-5-1 (13 points) in the Pacific Division while the Lightning fall to 7-4-2 (16 points) in the Southeast Division.
The Sharks return to action Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. at HP Pavilion to take on Pacific Division rival, the Anaheim Ducks.