Antti Niemi

Marleau shines, Sharks halt 4-game skid in Toronto

By Guest Contributor Kyle McLorg

The San Jose Sharks finally found a way to ward off some inner demons last night, scrapping out a 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs and ending a 4-game losing streak — their longest of the season.

They did so primarily on the merits of some great work in goal by Antti Niemi and a hell of a performance by Patrick Marleau.

After a scoreless first period, the Sharks found a way to strike early in the second — something that they’ve struggled to do lately. Tommy Wingels, who was caught out with the first line after being late on a line change, won a fight for the puck behind the net and kicked it over to Joe Thornton. Thornton got pressured hard on the glass, but found a way to no-look a pass to Marleau, who was basically invisible at the high slot. Marleau whipped a beautiful one-timer past Leafs goalie James Reimer, giving the Sharks the 1-goal advantage.

The next goal came midway through the second period on a Sharks power play. Defenseman Dan Boyle got pressured at the point, but Logan Couture was there to help out. He took the puck and whipped his head around, finding Marleau in front of the goal and directing his shot right for the tip of his stick. It deflected past Reimer and the Sharks had a 2-goal lead.

The Leafs would do their best to battle back, answering with a goal from Jake Gardiner less than 4 minutes into the third, but it was all they’d get. The Sharks walked away with a much needed win, making them 2-4-1 on the roadie with two games left.

The formula for the victory was simple — stout goal tending, scoring first and playing mistake-free hockey. Their performance was more of an anomaly than a trend. The Sharks were outshot 30-25 — something Sharks fans are not used to seeing. Niemi had 29 saves in the effort, giving fans of Team Teal reason to breathe a sigh of relief. That is the kind of performance they need from Niemi, and Todd McLellan agreed.

“He looked very confident, which is what we’re looking for,” McLellan said. “He looked comfortable. His teammates felt good about his game. It looks like we have Nemo back, which is a good thing for us.”

Niemi stopped nearly every shot that came his way, but his defensive support was just as important. Both the Sharks’ defensemen and their back checking forwards made good work of cleaning up rebounds from in front of the net, which minimized the Leafs’ scoring opportunities.

The Sharks went 1-for-2 on the power play, but the more astounding stat was that the Leafs would get no power play opportunities on the night — a far cry from the 7 that Columbus enjoyed in their 6-3 routing.

McLellan called each of the Sharks players in for a discussion following the loss in Columbus, and clearly whatever he said worked. Toronto is a team currently on the playoff bubble. They’re hungry, and they need every point they can grasp. The Sharks have to treat the rest of their games in the same manner, or they’ll miss their ticket to the playoffs.

Trade deadline moves

With the NHL trade deadline looming on the 27th, the Columbus Blue Jackets finally made a trade, but it wasn’t who you think.

The Blue Jackets traded Jeff Carter to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Jack Johnson and a conditional first round pick.

We remember Carter, don’t we? He’s the guy who put up a hat trick on the Sharks Tuesday night in Columbus. Now he’ll be playing in the Sharks’ backyard, adding some much needed scoring ability to the Kings roster.

Carter, a 27-year-old forward, had 29 points in 39 games with the Blue Jackets this year. He is a 3-time 30 goal scorer.

In the midst of that story breaking, Darren Dreger of TSN reported that the New York Rangers have become the front runners to acquire Rick Nash.

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported on Twitter late last night that LA “made big offer for both Nash and Carter … before dropping [their pursuit of] Nash … and focusing solely on Carter.” That’s a good thing for Sharks fans, because the Kings are hot on their tails in efforts to win the Pacific Division, trailing by only 5 points.

The Sharks play next in Nashville on Saturday.

You can find more of Kyle McLorg’s writing at Ruthless Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Ruthless_Sports.

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