It’s not good when a team has home ice advantage, hosting a team on a losing skid, and yet you expect said home team to play down to the competition. So it really wasn’t much of a shock when the Sharks didn’t look ready to play in the first 20 minutes of their Tuesday night tilt against the Flyers.
What did come as a pleasant surprise however, was that San Jose not only tied the game up in the second period, but that they found the confidence in their game to pull out their second straight regulation win, only the second time this season that they’ve notched back-to-back victories in the regulated 60 minutes.
Matt Nieto, after not scoring a goal since the first game of the season, registered his second goal in two games –Tuesday’s being the game-winner coming off a sketchy rebound with 11.5 seconds left in the third period.
Head coach Todd McLellan said last weekend that the team’s gritty win over the Anaheim Ducks “epitomizes” Team Teal. After Tuesday’s 2-1 win, he admitted to the media that, while Tuesday’s wasn’t their best win, back-to-back victories builds up confidence: “It wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t pretty, but it was a win.”
Suffice to say that San Jose didn’t look “pretty” in the least during that first frame. James Sheppard drew a bad interference call, which gave way to Sean Courtier’s goal on the power play to give Philadelphia the 1-0 advantage in the first stanza.
But unlike so many of their contests against sputtering teams during this campaign, San Jose turned their game up a few notches in the second period. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who got dinged by the puck on the first period penalty kill, was set up for the wrist shot high over goaltender Steve Mason’s block to knot the game up 1-1.
Perhaps it wasn’t so much that San Jose was able to tie the game up in that second 20 minutes, but that they skated better. In addition to being scored on, the Sharks were outshot 16-6 in the first frame. They came out in the second much more aggressive, however, and outshot Philly 13-6. They also outhit the opposition 38-27 on the evening.
“We weren’t very good in the first period, I think that was obvious,” McLellan continued. “But we stuck with it, and got a little better as the night went on. Good to see those results.”
The big result came from sophomore forward Nieto — a hard-working sort who has battled to score more this season, but hasn’t been able to find the back of the net. With just 11.5 seconds left and the game still held to a stalemate, he got hold of a Tommy Wingels rebound and beat Mason for the game winner. Add that to chipping in the empty netter at the end of Saturday’s game against Anaheim, and the kid has two goals in two games.
“Last game I got the empty netter,” Nieto said to the media afterwards, “and even though it doesn’t seem like much, it was a huge confidence builder.”
The building of confidence appears to be the name of the game for San Jose right now. We’ll see if they can use that to their advantage this Thursday, the last game of this homestand, against the Boston Bruins.