One thing is certain about the Sharks after Saturday night: The team that hosted the Calgary Flames sure as heck didn’t look like the team that was defeated by the Chicago Blackhawks the previous Wednesday.
Just a game after two members of the third line had been benched, the combo of Tommy Wingels, Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto emerged as a few of the biggest reason for the Sharks’ much-needed home victory.
“You’ve got to find a way to bounce back and respond after a situation like last game,” Wingels said the line’s contribution to the 5-2 win. “It was a good rebound game for us.”
It was a good “rebound game” for a club trying to find that tough home ice identity that’s been hard to harness since midway through last season.
“We wanted to establish our home ice (identity),” Joel Ward said. “Tonight everybody chipped in and made some big plays, for sure.”
Granted, Calgary isn’t nearly the Western Conference threat that they were last season. Maybe this game was a bit more manageable than the one they played on Wednesday against the defending Stanley Cup champions. But the Sharks had several things working in their favor.
The third line redemption
San Jose had the ice tipped in their favor right from the drop of the puck — with the exception of a couple close calls in front of the Sharks’ net, which Martin Jones (25 saves) was quick to smother — and the third line led the way.
“Our line found a way early,” Wingels said. “When you’re able to find your legs and get a goal early, it propels you the rest of the game.”
“They were probably our best players tonight,” complimented Joe Pavelski, who had two assists himself on the evening.
“(They) set the tone with the forecheck, got us those two first period goals,” coach Peter DeBoer agreed. “Key part: we need those guys. It was a great response game by them, and now we’ve got to continue to build on that.”
The combo started taking care of business right from their first shift, and put the home team on the board early. Wingels redirected a shot by Marc-Edouard Vlasic to get San Jose on the board, and Hertl followed it up with a tricky goal that narrowly squeezed between netminder Jonas Hiller’s left arm and the goal post.
Speaking of Hertl …
Number 48 had, hands down, his best game of the season. He and Wingels ended the night with two points (1 goal, 1 assist), but it was Hertl’s extra hungry game that was the surprise.
“Played a little angry, it was nice,” DeBoer said, likening Hertl’s play on Saturday night to that of chippy vet Joe Thornton. “I think when Tomas plays that way, he’s very hard to handle.”
“You saw the intensity,” Pavelski explained. “He’s a big body, skates well … When he brings that game, and his linemates were going, they had the puck all night. It was good to see.”
As Pavelski mentioned, when a couple penalties added up early in the second stanza, the home team’s 2-0 lead looked to be in a bit of trouble. But San Jose’s special teams had no trouble keeping Calgary’s 30th-ranked power play at bay, while picking up two power play goals of their own. The first PPG was an up-close-and-personal assault by Ward on a five-on-three. The second came before the next penalty expired, with Patrick Marleau firing the puck through traffic and bring the score to 4-0 in favor of the home team.
How nice was it to finally bust through the power play woes? “It was just a matter of time,” Ward said with a slight sigh. “It’s good to see us gain some confidence from it.”
Playing with the “edge”
Of course it makes for a good storyline that the Sharks put an extra chippy product on the ice on Ryane Clowe Night. But it also isn’t lost on anyone that San Jose has a better chance of winning when they play a bit more angry, and a bit more desperate, right from when they take the ice. That whole “good starts” key again.
“We were desperate right from the start,” Pavelski said. “We’ve got to start winning a few games at home. That was kind of our talk was ‘win tonight’ and then go from there. Guys’ came out, and a lot of guys stepped up tonight.”
And when those guys stepped up, their edge was contagious. “It’s the good thing about this group,” Ward said. “When guys are rolling like that, it makes it a lot easier for everybody else.”
— With Saturday’s win, the Sharks are now 11-1-0 when they score the first goal of a game.
— Over the last five games the Sharks have killed off 16 of their last 17 instances on the penalty kill.
— The Sharks have scored a power play goal in each of their last three games.