There are a couple good roads to take when kicking off a long homestand, and the Sharks managed to find one of those avenues on the way to their 3-1 victory over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs in a quick-paced tilt on Thursday night.
Team Teal fired on all cylinders to pull out on of those all-around team wins against the Eastern Conference Leafs. “Everyone found a way to contribute,” said head coach Todd McLellan. “Your energy level stays up a lot more when you’re able to get that kind of contribution.”
The win was made even more impressive by the fact that it had all the trappings of a game that could have buried the San Jose with an ugly defeat. The Leafs entered SAP Center after losing five of their last six — including a 4-0 loss to the Ducks down in Anaheim the night before — and having not scored a goal on their road trip through California. Such odds usually, and unfortunately, end up working against the Sharks, as the opposing team will typically end up bursting onto the scene scoring goals left and right. But San Jose stood pat Thursday, relying on speed and a solid transition game to hold Toronto to a single goal on the evening.
“I liked our transition game, we looked fast,” McLellan continued. “We went after a team that played the night before. We got the start we wanted. The last 10 minutes of the first (period) got a little loose, but after that we settled in.”
San Jose scored their first two goals within 11 seconds of each other. For the first, Brenden Dillon — fresh off scoring his first goal in a Sharks sweater on Tuesday against Arizona — set up Tyler Kennedy up front for a wrister past netminder James Reimer to give the Sharks an early 1-0 lead. Justin Braun (fresh off that slump he was on, perhaps) also pitched in as a helper.
If you had blinked, you would’ve missed the chaos in front of Toronto’s net in which Matt Nieto appeared to push the puck past Reimer’s block, and the goal went to video review. After a bit of a wait, the goal was confirmed but awarded to Patrick Marleau, with assists going to Nieto and Justin Braun and giving San Jose the 2-0 lead.
Getting off to the fast start and notching the two goals early is what won the game for the Sharks, Joe Thornton said. “It was probably one of our keys. We wanted to get off to a quick start, and we did that.”
Antti Niemi gave up a bad goal to Roman Polak that allowed the Leafs to cut the deficit to 2-1 before the first period expired. But Niemi settled in after that, and didn’t let another puck past him.
Despite not scoring in the second stanza, the Sharks maintained a steady pace throughout the next 20 minutes and outshot Toronto 17-4. Niemi kept things tight on his end of the ice, although the Leafs weren’t firing too many shots at him.
The all-around team win was capped off with the empty-netter at the tail end of regulation. Toronto pulled Reimer for an extra skater, but San Jose was able to keep the pressure and the puck in the enemy’s zone. Tye McGinn couldn’t quite get the puck the net himslef, so he set up Wingels perfectly to putt the goal with 44 seconds on the clock that solidified the 3-1 victory.
— Tyler Kennedy’s goal was his fourth in 19 career games vs Toronto.
— With the primary assist on Kennedy’s goal, Brenden Dillon has three points (one goal, two assists) in his last four games.
— Tommy Wingels’ third period goal was the first empty-netter of his career. He has five points (two goals, three assists) in four career games against the Maple Leafs.
— Antti Niemi made 24 saves in his 1550th regular season win as a Shark. He is now 4-1-0 vs. Toronto.
— The Maple Leafs have allowed 40+ shots 12 times this season, the most in the NHL.
(Notes courtesy of @SharksStats)