San Jose’s 5-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks just hours after trading Douglas Murray was an obvious indication that this team is finally turning a corner.
Okay, maybe that’s a little rash.
It’s easy to connect the dots, but I’m not sure how much validity can be put to the “big changes spark a team” narrative. It’s such a convenient narrative to spin in hockey, especially after what the Los Angeles Kings did in 2011-12. Their season was headed for certain disaster before head coach Terry Murray was fired and replaced by Darryl Sutter. The team made a couple big moves at the trade deadline and rallied all the way back to not only make the playoffs but win the Stanley Cup.
The comparison just doesn’t stand. There aren’t a lot of similarities between the two situations. Todd McLellan appears to be riding this one out (no matter how tempting an option both Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson look behind the bench). With very few movable options left San Jose is probably done making trades big enough to wake the team up like the Murray trade has, and even with all the talent on this roster it’s impossible to say the Sharks are anywhere near the discussion of “Stanley Cup contenders.”
I guess tonight’s not the night to really be going after the Sharks though. After all, their response to Doug Wilson’s shake up was impressive.
They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first 7:10 thanks to goals from Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski. Martin Havlat extended the lead to three in the opening minute of the second period before Emerson Etem finally opened the scoring for Anaheim at 8:36.
Right there’s about where the wheels would fall off for the Sharks (although this season, scoring three by the 21st minute of the game is big foot-esque), but the team kept their composure and, more importantly, continued to attack into the third period despite the two-goal cushion.
San Jose’s power play was an anemic 0-for-5 on the night, but last man-advantage was entertaining as hell if nothing else. Pavelski ripped a shot from the point that deflected off of Logan Couture’s stick and into the goal, but after a lengthy review, Toronto called it off on a high stick. Over the course of the review, CSN showed several replays of which Drew Remenda was absolutely convinced it hit off of the shaft of Couture’s stick. Mentions of “shaft” were numerous and inneundos flowed, both from Remenda’s mouth and on Twitter. When the goal was disallowed, the color commentator was vocal with his displeasure — nothing new, but entertaining nonetheless.
It was only a few minutes later when James Sheppard scored his first goal of the season on what looked like another high stick tip in from Havlat. This one went to review before being confirmed, and though no Sharks fan wanted to see another goal disallowed, part of me would have welcomed it just for Remenda’s reaction.
A working formula
This was the most complete hockey the Sharks have played all season long (yes, even over the seven-game winning streak to open up the season). They were disciplined, only taking two minor penalties the entire game. They out-shot Anaheim 39-27 and stayed on the attack even with the lead. It was a full 60-minutes, as the cliche states.
— Does the increase in offense directly correlate with Murray’s absence? It’s too small of a sample size to say now. San Jose didn’t manage a goal in the one other game they played without him this season, but they looked more spry with the puck than they usually do.
— Moving Pavelski onto a line with Sheppard and TJ Galiardi worked well. Pavelski snapped a long cold streak — before tonight he had only managed one goal in his last 18 games. He ended up scoring on one of his six shots on goal as well as notching an assist on Dan Boyle’s empty-netter in the closing minute.
— The trade may have flipped a switch for some of the other leaders on the team, most notably Joe Thornton. Today Thornton admitted Murray was one of his best friends. It was obvious the captain was skating with more energy tonight, especially on Burns’ goal. Thornton hustled on the forecheck to avoid icing and tapped the puck to Havlat, who fed it to Burns. Has the captain taken Murray’s departure as a threat?
— More importantly, how long will the fire last? It’s the question for a San Jose team that hasn’t strung together two solid regulation wins since the seventh game of the season. Wednesday’s game — the second of a home-and-home with the Ducks — should say a lot about whether the play we saw tonight is truly sustainable down the stretch.