You’d think that showing up to the rink after a long plane flight and missing warmups would doom a player to a bad first night with his new team. That certainly was not the case for newly-acquired Sharks forward Ben Smith, who took morning skate with the Chicago Blackhawks before learning that he was traded west.
“Yeah, it was fun!” The new guy said with a huge grin. “I woke up like a normal game day in Chicago, pre-game skated … then around 11:30-11:45, after the skate, they told me that I was traded to San Jose. And they wanted me to play tonight, so I had to get there quickly!”
Smith didn’t even take warmups with the team, as he showed up to the Tank and warmed up on a stationary bike before throwing on his new teal sweater and hitting the ice. But if you were watching your first Sharks game, you might not have known that Smith had just spent all day on a plane, or that he was playing his first game in San Jose. He nestled right into a third line position between Tommy Wingels and Tomas Hertl, and was the spark plug for the Sharks, who snapped an eight-game home losing skid and opened up the month of March with a raucous 4-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
“I don’t think too many guys take their pregame skates half the country away, and then land, throw your gear on and have that type of game,” Todd McLellan said. “I think that speaks volumes about Ben’s character, first of all. It would be easy to have a built-in excuse about fatigue, but I think he was excited to be here and it energized the group.”
That zeal was indeed spread throughout the Sharks lineup, who played as complete a 60 minutes of hockey as they have all season. Al Stalock pitched the 20-save shutout and had an on-point defense in front of him to boot — a must when facing the Eastern Conference leading Habs.
“There was an energy to the team that we hadn’t seen for a while,” McLellan said. “Tremendous goaltending from Al, really happy for him. Blue line played a very good puck-moving game and defended well, and our forwards didn’t cheat.”
It all came down to San Jose “staying aggressive,” said Wingels. “We talked about it and tried doing it the last couple games. But tonight we actually executed it.”
They executed right from the drop of the puck, with pressure sustained in Montreal’s end of the rink. Vlasic fired the puck from the blue line and Smith got his stick on it just in time to deflect the shot past superior netminder Carey Price, notching his first goal as a Shark and his first point since Dec. 27 when he tallied an assist as a Blackhawk.
San Jose’s second goal on the evening ended another player’s scoring drought. At the tail end of the Sharks second power play attempt, Joe Pavelski buried one to end a seven-game stretch without a goal and give San Jose a 2-0 cushion headed into the first intermission.
Instead of falling flat-footed after getting a lead like they had in previous games, the Sharks kept the ice tilted in their favor. The newly-formed third line produced another goal when Wingels and Smith set up Matt Irwin for a high shot through traffic to up the lead to 3-0.
“I think we meshed pretty good from puck drop,” Wingels said of the instant chemistry with Hertl and Smith.
The Habs began to push back in the latter part of the second stanza, and made a bit of noise right in front of Stalock to open up the third. The visitors would have gotten on the board when Jeff Petry’s shot went behind Stalock’s back. But Brent Burns’ stick block mid-air kept the shutout intact.
Stalock was more than complimentary after the game when talking about how the rest of the team played in front of him. “The way the guys kept their foot on the gas pedal was pretty special.”
San Jose was gifted one final power play attempt after Devante Smith-Pelly batted the puck out of bounds with his glove and went to the bin with a two-minute minor. With chaos in the blue paint and before time on the man advantage could expire, Patrick Marleau chipped the puck over Price’s left skate to notch his third power play goal in as many games and give the Sharks the 4-0 final.
I know what you’re thinking: Where has this version of the Sharks been?
“We just needed the month of February to end,” Wingels said, holding back a smile. “We’re happy with the game today. We know we have to carry it into the next game (in Vancouver,) and we plan on doing that.”