By Mary Walsh
The San Jose Sharks ended a three game road trip with a 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. They picked up two wins in five days to close the gap between the Sharks and the Division-leading Ducks to five points in the standings.
Sharks goals were scored by Joe Pavelski, Raffi Torres, Matt Nieto and Patrick Marleau. Alex Stalock turned in a very good performance with 21 saves in his second win in a row. Devils goals were scored by Adam Henrique and Patrick Elias.
The first star of the game was Matt Nieto. Of Nieto, Sharks coach Todd McLellan said:
He played an excellent game, he seized the opportunity, played really well, was effective penalty killing, was very good on that line, obviously scored the winning goal.
What about Nieto sitting out the last game?
In his case it wasn’t so much sending a message it was getting some other people into the game who had to play. It was nice to see that he handled it properly and was ready to go today.
Nieto replaced Brent Burns on the top line Sunday. McLellan explained that decision:
I thought Burnzie had a good game but it’s been a long time since he produced and scored on that line. And just like everybody else we’ve got to to hold him accountable. Brent will work his way back.
The game was the first time the Sharks had played against ex-teammate Ryane Clowe, and he welcomed them to town with four hits. He gave one each to Justin Braun, Dan Boyle, Tommy Wingels and Jason Demers. During the second intermission, he was asked if those hits had a little extra energy behind them for his ex-teammates:
You’re right, you lean into them a little more. It’s something where obviously they’ve had a core together for a while, you know all those guys. It’s a little bit of me is trying to play physical, probably trying to play a little more physical against those guys.
But it’s also part of the game, I think we’ve got to get on our D and play physical against that D who skate well, who move the puck well, but we’ve got to make them defend.
The first period ended scoreless, with just one penalty call in the last minute of play. That call went to the Sharks. The shots were very close, just 10-8 for the Sharks.
New forward lines for the Sharks’ were clearly trying to find their way, most notably the line composed of Brent Burns, James Sheppard and Martin Havlat. How McLellan had never put those together is a mystery, as McLellan can be relied on to try everything at least once, and those three can provide some skill and scoring. How to communicate smoothly after not playing together is another matter. The line did not get credit for any shots on goal in the first period but did spend more time in the offensive zone than defending.
The other lines were adjusted accordingly, putting Tommy Wingels on a line with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. Matt Nieto came back into the lineup, on a line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. The fourth line was made up of Raffi Torres, Andrew Desjardins and Tim Kennedy. That line did not have much trouble sorting themselves out, and were generating good chances for themselves early in the game.
The defensive pairings had also been changed since the game in Buffalo two nights before: Matt Irwin was with Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic was paired with Jason Demers, and Justin Braun was with Scott Hannan. Finally, Alex Stalock was in net.
The first goal of the game came early in the second period. The Sharks’ Tommy Wingels screened the goalie for a Jason Demers shot from the point that was tipped by Patrick Marleau. The shot created a small rebound that came out to Couture who was sliding in near the post. Assists went to Marleau and Demers.
The second goal came from the Devils’ Adam Henrique to tie the game. What looked like a fairly manageable two on three fell apart for the Sharks when Henrique came down the slot and received a pass from Steve Bernier, who had escaped Tyler Kennedy along the boards. Sharks defenseman Justin Braun did not get back across the ice quickly enough to tie up Henrique. Assists went to Bernier and Eric Gelinas.
The Devils also scored the third goal, during another incident of missed coverage. Patrick Elias scored that, with assists going to Jon Merrill and Henrique.
The next goal tied the game again. This time a neutral zone pass from James Sheppard went to Raffi Torres, who went in to the Devils’ zone in a two on one with Joe Pavelski. Torres passed it to Pavelski, who passed it back. Torres had an open net and scored his third goal in two games this season.
The second period ended with the Devils on a power play after Marc-Edouard Vlasic was called for tripping Travis Zajac. The shots were 18-14 for the Sharks, the score still 2-2.
The Sharks killed off the last 30 seconds of the penalty without incident. Sharks’ goaltender Alex Stalock had to make some good saves on Jaromir Jagr and Ryane Clowe in the first minutes of the period.
A little over six minutes into the third, the Sharks had a scare after a giveaway in their offensive zone. A relentless attack from the Devils required several good saves from Stalock. The Sharks finally cleared the puck and executed a line change, putting the Thornton line on the ice. One quick pass from Joe Pavelski to Matt Nieto gave the Sharks the lead again.
The Sharks went right to the penalty kill when Jason Demers went to the box for tripping. The Sharks killed that off very effectively, as they had the two previous penalties. The Sharks spent a good deal of the penalty kill outside their own zone.
The Sharks went to the penalty kill yet again with less than six minutes left in the game. Justin Braun was called for hooking. The Sharks did not allow the Devils to spend much time in the offensive zone, but iced the puck shortly after the penalty expired. Sharks coach Todd McLellan took his timeout with 3:22 left in the period.
Shotrly after play resumed, the Devils made a fatal mistake, letting Patrick Marleau get off on a break away to score the Sharks’ fourth goal of the game. Tommy Wingels helped the Devils make that mistake by going ahead and driving for the net to take away a Devils defender and distract Cory Schneider.
The Devils pulled their goaltender with a little less than two minutes left, but even with the extra attacker the Devils could not score again.
Final score: 4-2 Sharks. The Sharks killed four of four penalties, Alex Stalock made 21 saves on 23 shots. The Devils killed one penalty, Cory Schneider made 18 saves on 22 shots. The teams were even in faceoff wins with 24 each.
The three stars were Matt Neito, Adam Henrique and Joe Pavelski. Justin Braun lead the Sharks in ice time with 21:03, Joe Thornton lead in shots with four.
The Sharks next play at home against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday at 7:30 pm.