It was a game that started out impressively and finished too close for comfort. For the first time since their victory over the Vancouver Canucks on the fifth game of the season, the San Jose Sharks scored four goals in a game on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. Despite being outshot 16-6 in the first period, San Jose took the lead before first intermission, let the fireworks go in the second and by the 13-minute mark in the third, HP Pavilion was ready to throw a block party.
It wouldn’t last. Two quick goals late in the third cut the score to 4-3, the Sharks had to close out the game with some last minute heroics from Antti Niemi. The Kings have been a third period team lately so the push back was no surprise. After their disappointing last second overtime loss to the Avalanche over the weekend, the fact the Sharks finished and took two points in regulation is a positive.
Revisiting the Burns experiment
Remember my criticism of Brent Burns’ move from defenseman to forward? It may be time to revamp my opinion of it. Burns was nothing short of masterful in his 15:25 minutes on the ice, scoring his second goal in as many games and adding an assist on Logan Couture’s net in the third. He put pressure on the forecheck, used his length to play take away (and keep away) with defenders and created unbelievable scoring chances. I’ve criticized Todd McLellan a lot this season, but this was a move that hasn’t just produced goals — it has invigorated the entire team as well.
Burns’ defensive efforts haven’t been lost completely with the move, either. I noticed more than a few shifts when Burns was on the blue line, both on the power play and when defenders activated in the offensive zone. Burns’ ability to freelance has really shown over the last two games and it’s allowed him to play much looser than when he was strictly playing defense.
“It’s fun, it’s different,” Burns said of playing forward. “The pressure is a little different when you’re playing forward than when you’re playing D … There’s still pressure to perform and play, well but you can try a lot more things as a forward than you can as a D-man.”
The Andrew Desjardins effect
Desjardins hasn’t had much of a chance to make an impact on the Sharks’ this season beyond his clean hit on Jamal Mayers in their February loss to the Blackhawks. He’s been a curious healthy scratch more often than he probably should be lately, but he definitely made a case against any more scratches tonight. His second period hit on Colin Fraser was devastating, and after lighting the crowd up thanks to the spirited fight with Jake Muzzin that followed the Sharks earned a four-minute power play and capitalized with two goals, 1:27 apart.
Nastiness hasn’t been absent from the Sharks game this season as much as calculated or timely nastiness has. It was the discipline of Desjardins’ play that impressed me tonight. While Ryane Clowe has been roughing people up at the wrong time and getting penalized for it, Desjardins’ hit was not only clean but retaliation provoking. Without it, the four minute power play never would have happened, and the Sharks likely would have lost.
– Speaking of Clowe, I liked his effort in this game a lot. He did seem to keep his emotions under control, aside from a little tussle in front of the penalty box in the third period. He notched another assist on Matt Irwin’s power play score in the second, and had three stellar shots that would have been goals in any other, less cruel universe.
– This was McLellan’s franchise-leading 207th win as head coach of the Sharks, a fact he downplayed in his postgame press conference. As McLellan put it, “the important wins haven’t even happened yet in this organization.”
– While scoring four goals in one game seemed to be the big exhale of the evening, the coach didn’t hesitate in criticizing the Sharks’ inability to close out the Kings in the third period.
“There was some anxiousness,” McLellan said. “You could tell we probably haven’t won on a consistent basis and we’re reestablishing some type of confidence. I thought where we failed a little bit down the stretch is we didn’t continue to forecheck. We were a good team on the forecheck and now we were going to stand off and defend, and you can’t do that against a good team like that.”
Ruthless goes to the Tank!
This was my first credentialed game covering the Sharks and it’s certainly a different experience than watching at home or in the seats at the game…
– Ever wonder who those guys are walking around in the rafters over the ice? Me too. Those are members of the press, and it’s not as scary up there as you think looking at it from below.
– I sat in a secondary press box overhanging the away goal, and the bird’s eye view is quite a fascinating angle for hockey. You see the plays develop much more easily than you can from the TV (in Mom’s basement). It’s like watching coaches film unfold before your eyes.
– For those keeping track, I finished out the game eating only ONE press box hot dog. I did indulge in a few handfuls of pretzels, though (don’t tell Larry Krueger).
– Lots of people say hockey players are the most down-to-earth athletes, and the ones I interviewed in the dressing room definitely were. While I don’t have a ton to gauge this on, it was a similar experience to talking to the Giants in 2012, especially Sergio Romo, who I’ll forever have a man crush on for the way he treated me.
– It wasn’t a complete effort by the Sharks tonight, but the first two periods were impressive. I would be surprised to see McLellan make too many drastic changes to the lineup he threw out tonight, but with some more consistent scoring (and four power play goals in the last four games), perhaps San Jose is finally starting to turn things around.