The Edmonton Oilers came into HP Pavilion last night with their minds on revenge. Even on the heels of a back-to-back with a flight from Phoenix to San Jose, the young Oilers squad played with an energy the Sharks hadn’t faced this season. After the Sharks walked into Rexall Place last Tuesday and put up six goals in the first period, Edmonton set out to try and return the favor. The energy may have been there, but opportunities couldn’t translate into goals for the Oilers on Thursday night. Ultimately San Jose found a way to prevail, 3-2, in the shootout.
The Sharks are now the only team remaining in the NHL without at least an overtime loss. They currently sit at 7-0-0. It’s the hottest start in San Jose’s history and they’re three wins away from tying the NHL’s record of 10 straight wins to open a season. Their last two victories, including Tuesday’s win over the Ducks, have both gone past overtime to the shootout, but the Sharks look as dominant in the extra periods as they do on the power play. If they want to push it and break the league record, they’ll have to take down the Nashville Predators at home, beat the Ducks again (this time in Anaheim), then keep their home winning streak alive with wins against the Blackhawks and Coyotes.
Regressing to the mean (sort of)
Both Patrick Marleau and the power play have cooled off in the last few games — neither Marleau or the power play units have scored in two games now. I suppose you could it “regressing,” although Marleau’s shooting percentage is still a cool 27.3 and the power play is still scoring at a 30.8% clip.
While those numbers will likely sink toward the league average, it doesn’t mean either will cease to play incredible hockey. Marleau continues to be one of the most dangerous skaters on the ice for the Sharks — on one of his six shots on goal last night Marleau sliced through three Oilers into the offensive zone all by himself and almost deposited the puck over the short side of Devan Dubnyk’s shoulder. The power play didn’t cash in on any of their five opportunities, but it enjoy multiple scoring chances and got stoned all the way by the Oilers’ goalie, who made 36 pretty incredible saves.
Movin’ on up
Although Brad Stuart could make a good argument for this (fourth in average time on ice at 19:37, first in +/- at +9), Scott Gomez has been the most impressive acquisition by Doug Wilson for the Sharks so far. After playing his first two games with the Sharks on the fourth line, coach Todd McLellan bumped Gomez up to the third and second line midway through Tuesday’s victory over Anaheim. In last night’s game, Gomez started the game on the second line with Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe. Gomez and Couture have both shown some nice chemistry working together: they combined to score the game-tying goal against the Ducks and Gomez created the turnover that Couture took and put in the net to make the score 1-0 Sharks in the second period. Gomez will probably stay with Clowe and Couture, while Martin Havlat will bring his scoring threat to the third line.
– Speaking of Couture’s goal…
Wait, what was that celebration?
Yep — that’s Couture Kaepernicking. Looks like he knows his audience.
– The Oilers are young fast and aggressive, but they may have some work to do in terms of stemming momentum. In last week’s game, the Sharks scored most of their six goals in pairs, almost all of which came within a two minute span of the next. San Jose did it to them again last night, with Couture and Pavelski’s goals both coming in a span of 39 seconds. Usually teams have to weather a push from the opposition following a goal, but Edmonton seems to cave even further after being scored on.
– Antti Niemi has quietly become San Jose’s early MVP. His six wins lead the league, he’s fifth in save percentage at .933 and seventh in goals against average at 1.95. He hasn’t allowed a goal in two shootouts now and when the Sharks need a big save from him he’s been delivering. These numbers should improve as San Jose starts getting their defensive core healthy.
– Speaking of defensemen: the Sharks added Jason Demers to their roster after he started the season on injured reserve with a broken hamate bone. The HP Pavilion jumbotron tricked everybody into thinking Demers would be playing last night, but the team ended up scratching him after all. Expect him back shortly, while Brent Burns’ status remains in question. Burns is an important key to the Sharks’ success going forward, so there’s no need to rush him back as long as the San Jose continues to win without him.
– I can’t end this post without giving some serious credit to Michal Handzus. He is the definition of a grinder on the ice, but while his contributions don’t necessarily show up on the scoring sheet, he’s been phenomenal on the penalty kill and the shootout. He’s lead off the Sharks last two shootouts, scoring on both of his opportunities. He’s also ranked seventh in blocked shots for forwards with 10, making him an invaluable piece on the penalty kill.