The Sharks’ weekend play was so helter-skelter, it’s hard to believe they emerged victorious on Sunday.
After a a very ugly loss to the lowly Buffalo Sabres at home on Saturday, San Jose dug deep and kicked off their current road trip with a dirty fisticuff-laden win over the Anaheim Ducks.
It’s almost too painful to rehash that matinee with the Sabres — the game was that hard to watch. Not just because Buffalo skated into the Tank bringing up the rear of the Atlantic Division with a 1-7-0 record, having scored one goal in their previous four battles, and then beat San Jose 2-1 with a pair of soft goals in the third period. But because the home team played a sloppy first 40 minutes of what was then their fourth straight loss.
“I thought we just played with them rather than putting our foot on the gas,” head coach Todd McLellan told the media after Saturday’s game. “And that’s disappointing.”
Team Teal took that disappointment and used it to their advantage the following day, snapping the Ducks’ seven-game winning streak with a 4-1 win. The victory was almost as good for the team as the feisty nature of the tilt. There were 127 penalty minutes in the third frame alone, putting fight-happy ECHL games to shame. (And also grabbing John Scott a two-game suspension for coming off the bench during a line change and instigating the biggest brawl of the evening. But when you consider that he has already been a healthy scratch half the time this season, San Jose shouldn’t have trouble filling that bottom line void.)
The offense sored, and the defense kept it tight. Antti Niemi was on point with 33 saves, not allowing the puck to get past him until the final 20 minutes. Joe Pavelski scored his 31st career game-winning goal and had the second fight of his tenure in the NHL. Tommy Wingels was in angry mode again, putting 10+ shots on net, scoring one of the team’s four goals and dropping his gloves to throw a few punches at Corey Perry.
So now we ask, because god forbid we not question things: Can the Sharks take that grit and fire from Sunday and apply it to future games?
San Jose has two more games on the road before returning to the Tank — the first on Tuesday night in Colorado. The Avalanche are currently sitting closer to the bottom of the Western Conference standings (2-4-3), largely because of not being defensively sound and turning pucks over in their own zone. If the Sharks are able to be as on point as they were in Anaheim, they should be able to break down the Avs defense and get pucks past netminder Ondrej Pavelec — Pavelec is no slouch between the pipes, but if the defense isn’t helping him out, that could work to the Sharks advantage.
Plus a win in Colorado would give SJ a boost before heading to Minnesota for their Thursday fete with the Wild (4-3-0) These two teams tend to play each other pretty tight, averaging a collective 5.3 goals per game in 36 meet-ups over the past decade; San Jose has won four of their last six matches, all but one game being a one or two goal difference. In recent years these teams have also seen a lot of trades between their rosters and subsequent meet ups have gotten a bit chippy — everyone remember the fight at the end of their tilt at the Tank when Marc-Edouard Vlasic kicked the snot out of Dany Heatley? While getting into a few all-out brawls like they did in Anaheim probably wouldn’t do the Sharks a whole lot of good; having an aggressive edge seems to fuel them to play better and could help them on the ice in Minny.
If the Sharks want to bounce back from that four-game losing streak and start a string of tallies in the win column, these next two games would be a good place to start before they return to San Jose on November 1st. But first they need to play well in Colorado. Puck drop for their matchup with the Avs is scheduled for 6 pm Pacific time.