Antti Niemi

There’s no place like home for the Sharks

It certainly wasn’t a barn-burner, but after a road trip that saw the Sharks drop seven of nine, beating the Flyers 1-0 at the Tank last night was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Everything about last night seemed unnatural. For starters, the Sharks scored first, something that they’ve only done 15 times in 62 games. The goal came 1:22 into the first period off of the stick of Ryane Clowe, a man who desperately needed to get off the schneid after going 12 games without one.

Here’s what was even stranger: that would be the last of the scoring for the evening. The Sharks would net no more on the Flyers’ oft-shaky goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, though they had several opportunities for slam dunks. Patrick Marleau found the short side post on one shot and found Bryzgalov’s chest on another. Joe Thornton had a golden opportunity to score off of a headman feed from newcomer Daniel Winnik, but the Flyers’ net man poked the puck away as Jumbo tried to take it to his backhand right in front of the net. Luckily for the Sharks, one was all they’d need.

Even the environment was out of the ordinary. Watching the Sharks play at home was a welcome change after nearly three weeks of road games. Hearing the crowd react to scoring opportunities and cheer when the Sharks performed well was a beautiful sound — to the Sharks’ ears especially.

Antti Niemi finally found his groove after a forgettable road effort that saw him pulled in the first period of two of his last three starts. He looked comfortable and confident in goal, stoning the NHL’s highest-scoring team on 26 shots to complete the shutout. He had solid defensive support (for a change) and made the big stops when they were needed. It will be important for
Niemi to continue that kind of work down the stretch if the Sharks hope to win the Pacific, where they’re 2 points behind the division-leading Phoenix Coyotes.

The Sharks saw new life breathed into their defensive support and penalty kill. They played soundly in their own zone and went 2-0 on the PK, even without the aid of their newest additions. It usually takes a while to get newcomers adjusted to special teams strategies, so they didn’t employ either Winnik or Galiardi in that area, though they wouldn’t end up needing them.

Speaking of the two former Colorado forwards, they stood out in their first starts as Sharks. TJ Galiardi spent some time in the dressing room after getting checked hard on the boards in the first period, but he would return and bring some good energy in the second and third period. Winnik stood out especially, not only hitting hard and skating well, but also being involved in some solid scoring opportunities, including the aforementioned chance for Thornton.

This win came without the services of several key contributors for the Sharks, including defenseman Douglas Murray, still sitting out with a broken Adam’s apple, Logan Couture, who suffered a lower body injury in Minnesota, and even coach Todd McLellan, who’s still suffering from concussion-like symptoms after taking a stick to the head. It’s uncertain when any of them will be back for the Sharks, though I suspect we’ll see McLellan behind the bench on Thursday.

In the end, the Sharks got a much-needed win in a manner that their fans aren’t used to. It was low-scoring, defensive and physical. That also happense to be the formula for winning in the postseason, so the early start can’t hurt.

The Sharks will need to find a way to make it two in a row on Thursday when they face the struggling Buffalo Sabres, because when you’re clinging onto the No. 7 seed with a month left to play, you simply can’t afford to lose too many more.

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

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