By Matthew T.F. Harrington
AP photo: The Sharks Joonas Donskoi tries to get one past Oilers goalie Cam Talbot in the first period
SAN JOSE, Calif. – Former San Jose Sharks Todd McLellan made it difficult for his former charges Thursday night in his first trip to the Shark Tank at the helm of the Edmonton Oilers. McLellan’s youthful Oilers gave his replacement Peter DeBoer and San Jose all they could handle, but the Sharks (22-18-2) pulled out the 2-1 shootout victory to extend their win-streak to 4 games after playing their first home game into overtime on the year
“It’s been a long time,” said DeBoer on his team’s regulation streak at home. “I can’t believe we’re halfway through the season and it’s the first time we’ve had one.”
After leading San Jose to 311 wins from 2008-15, McLellan was familiar with the majority of the Sharks roster, but it was a pair of players not as his disposal during his tenure in Silicon Valley that made an impact in the upheaval of the Oilers (17-23-4).
Offseason trade acquisition Martin Jones made 24 saves in regulation for the Sharks, then managed to stop the potent duo of Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the skills competition for his 19th win of the year. Joonas Donskoi scored the deciding goal in the shootout on a masterful deke of an otherwise solid Oilers goalie Cam Talbot.
“It was an up-and-down game,” said DeBoer on the game’s pace. “Goaltending was excellent at both ends. It was a great hockey game.”
Donskoi, a known commodity to European Hockey aficionados and Youtube browsers, remains a mystery to North American scouts and coaches. Thursday was his first attempt at a shootout, and it produced a dandy.
“It was a no-brainer to throw him out there,” said DeBoer. “You don’t know how guys are going to react to the pressure but he delivered.”
The Finnish import forced Talbot to his right after pulling the puck to his backhand then transferred it back to his forehand in the blink of an eye to deposit it in the 72×48-inch vacancy.
“He’s got a few moves,” said Captain Joe Pavelski. “They can’t just be prepared for that one. It’s a situation he’s very strong at.”
“He’s got some nice hands on him to say the least,” added Sharks forward Joe Thornton.”
San Jose outshot the Oilers 37-25, but could only solve Talbot once in regulation, then had all 4 shots turned aside in sudden death overtime. Pavelski also scored in the first round of the shootout to help extend Team Teal’s winning ways after playing a quartet of contests in just 6 days.
“It hasn’t been too bad,” said Jones. “We’ve taken advantage of some days off and gotten ready to play for games. Everybody goes through the same thing.”
The Sharks all but guaranteed two points by hitting the score sheet first 11:29 into the game on a Marc-Edouard Vlasic goal. They entered play Thursday night 17-2 when scoring first, while Edmonton was just 4-15-2 when after going down 1-0.
Center Joe Thornton initiated the play after he flipped a puck on his backhand from the Sharks defensive end up to the neutral zone. From there, a waiting Melker Karlsson corralled the puck before tapping it to a rushing Vlasic. Vlasic slid into the slot to Talbot’s right and ripped a wrist shot over the netminder’s blocker for his 5th goal of the season.
“We had a day off yesterday, we have a day off tomorrow,” said Vlasic. “You get your rest and keep your energy for the game. We want to play tight defensively, but if the chance is there to join the rush, join the rush.”
Vlasic nearly netted his second of the game 8 minutes into the 2nd period, but the exchange would result in a 1-1 tie instead of a 2-0 lead. Vlasic’s shot at a gaping net on a one-timer missed the mark, allowing Oilers defenseman Justin Schultz to shovel the puck to a pair of rushing Edmonton forwards with a lone Sharks defenseman playing back.
The puck was slowed in linesman Trent Knorr’s skate, but Lauri Korpikoski still managed to pick the puck up for a 2-on-1 chance. Korpikoski managed to slide the puck just under Justin Braun’s stick to connect with Nail Yakupov. The top pick in the 2012 Entry Level Draft converted for just his 3rd goal of the year amidst a campaign marred by struggles.
“It was an unlucky bounce,” said Pavelski. “It was nice to see the guys keep working. We didn’t let them beat us.”
The Sharks get to continue to build momentum at home, a place where they’ve struggled this season to a 7-12-0 record. They welcome the Dallas Stars to town Saturday night then host the Ottawa Senators Monday evening.
“You just understand how hard it is,” said Pavelski of playing at home in the NHL for any team. “Teams are good on the road. We know what we can do on the road, so we have to expect teams to do the same.”
The Sharks feel like they are finally hitting stride with a relatively healthy roster. It appears Logan Couture may finally be fully back after peppering Talbot with 11 shots on goal Thursday. His presence has allowed for comfortability amongst the San Jose forward lines.
“I think it’s no secret that as Couture comes back and starts to get back to a good place,” said DeBoer. “When he does, our game starts to come around again.”
“It helps being healthy,” added Jones. “The last 6, 7 games, even ones we didn’t win, I thought we were taking steps in the right direction. We’re starting to get some results now.”