By Mary Walsh
photo credit: San Jose Sharks facebook page: Sharks Tomas Hertl scores and celebrates the game winner over the Dallas Stars on Saturday
SAN JOSE- The San Jose Sharks defeated the Dallas Stars 4-3 Saturday, in overtime. The Sharks finally came back to win after giving up the first goal, on home ice. The Sharks’ record when giving up the first goal on home ice was 0-18-1 going into Saturday’s game. The Sharks now have a three-game winning streak on home ice. It is possible that the 2015-16 Sharks have found their groove at last. Their power play got perfect results, as did their penalty kill.
Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored two goals Saturday, while Tomas Hertl scored the overtime game winner and Chris Tierney gave the team its first lead by scoring a power play goal in the second period. The Sharks’ two power play goals broke another recent pattern of icing a feeble power play. Joe Thornton earned his 926th assist, tying him with Stan Mikita for 17th place on the NHL’s all-time assists list.
The Sharks and the Stars played an almost perfectly balanced game. In shots, faceoffs, blocked shots, and goals, the Sharks and the Stars stayed neck and neck from start to finish. The teams traded one-goal leads, their shot counts were very close, and where one led in the second period, the other team led in the third. the Sharks led in hits and takeaways, but
The game started with plenty of offense. The teams stayed neck and neck on the shot clock until past the eleven minute mark, when an unfortunate bounce gave the Stars that critical shot: the first goal. Dylan DeMelo was trying to clear the puck out along the boards but instead it bounced out into the slot, where Ales Hemsky waited to put it past Martin Jones. Assists went to Mattias Janmark and Antoine Roussel. It was Dallas’ tenth shot of the game, where the Sharks had nine.
With 3:19 left in the first, the Sharks took the first penalty of the game, a goaltender interference call to Joonas Donskoi. It was an odd incident. Donskoi lost his balance just enough so that the lightest push from a Dallas defender caused him to fall over Antti Niemi. The Sharks killed it off, and by the end of the period the teams were still close in shots, with the Sharks leading 15-13. Many of those shots went off the post, on good chances, but the score was still 1-0 Dallas.
The teams started the second with the same energy as they started the first, keeping the goalies busy and everyone’s feet moving. It was on the Sharks’ 17th shot of the game that Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored on a nice rush from Tomas Hertl and Joe Thornton. Hertl caught up to the puck just as it came into the Dallas zone, protect the puck long enough to find Thornton on his way to the slot. Instead of taking a shot, Thornton made a pass to Vlasic, who was coming down the left side. Vlasic wasted no time as the puck came to him and put it under Niemi’s left pad. It was Vlasic’s sixth goal of the season, with assists to Thornton and Hertl.
Near the midpoint of the game, Alex Goligoski was called for interference on Tomas Hertl, giving the Sharks their first power play of the game. The power play was as anemic as it has been lately, including one very confident pass to an empty corner. Seconds before the penalty expired, Matt Nieto skated into the Stars zone, avoiding defenders with some nifty stick handling. He got the puck to Tommy Wingels, who handed it off to Chris Tierney. Tierney did not dawdle and put it over Niemi’s shoulder. It was Tierney’s of the season. Assists went to Wingels and Nieto.
The second period ended with the Sharks leading 2-1 and 30-21 in shots.
One of those leads evaporated in the first minute of the third period. 37 seconds into the period, Tyler Seguin caught the puck in his skates on a failed clear by the Sharks, then beat Martin Jones from the slot. Assist to Jamie Benn.
The Stars kept coming after that, and had the Sharks in such a fluster that they took a too many men on the ice penalty at 1:49. They killed the penalty off, despite a pretty well-orchestrated power play from Dallas. Martin Jones was especially sharp.
The Sharks took another lead at 7:51 of the period. Jamie Benn went to the box for interference on Joe Pavelski. Vlasic, on the second power play unit, put the puck over Niemi’s arm during the second minute of the penalty. Assists went to Dylan DeMelo and Joonas Donskoi.
The goal was challenged by Stars coach Lindy Ruff, for a missed offside call. The goal stood up and 12 seconds after the announcement, Jason Spezza tied it back up with a spin-o-rama off a pass from Jamie Benn. Assists went to Benn and Seguin.
The teams continued tied up until overtime, when the Sharks’ second three-man unit ended the game. Overtime was probably the only time in the game when one team dominated the other, but it only lasted one minute and 12 seconds, so perhaps it did not break pattern. The goal came after Vlasic made a try for a hat trick, shooting into Niemi’s pads from near the goal line. The shot was well-timed and placed, because he was able to collect his own rebound and take it around behind the net for another try. But it was not to be, as Tomas Hertl scored the game-winner, bringing an end to the “score first or lose” home ice curse that has haunted the Sharks since the start of the season. Assists went to Vlasic and Logan Couture.
The Sharks will finish this home stand on Monday, against the visiting Ottawa Senators at 7:30 PT.