By Mary Walsh
Thursday, the San Jose Sharks defeated the Florida Panthers for the first time in head coach Todd McLellan’s tenure. The final score was 3-0, with goals from Joe Thornton, Matt Nieto and Joe Pavelski.
Alex Stalock earned his first NHL shutout, stopping 24 shots from the Panthers. The Sharks limited Florida’s “Killer Bs” to three shots on net. Those Bs are Brad Boyes, Sean Bergenheim and the second overall draft pick of 2013, Aleksander Barkov.
As of puck drop on Thursday, the Sharks had not beaten the Panthers since 2006, well before Todd McLellan became their head coach. They hadn’t played the Panthers a whole lot either (only four games) but that was an unexpected statistic.
While he remains the points leader for the Sharks, Joe Thornton still finds a way to make scoring a goal surprising. At the end of the second period, he broke away from the Sharks’ blue line, getting a step on several nearby Panthers, and gave himself room to beat one of the craftiest goaltenders in the NHL.
The obvious way to beat a goalie like Tim Thomas is to get enough traffic in front of him, force rebounds and hope to clean up some garbage. Do all that, or send a fellow veteran ex-Bruin in to outfox him one on one.
Before the start of the third period, CSN asked Sharks assistant coach Larry Robinson to confirm that Joe Thornton displayed excellent hands for that first goal of the game. Robinson chuckled:
Well, not bad, but he gave the puck away four or five times on the power play, so I was wondering where his hands went.
That described well how the game went for the Sharks. With four power play opportunities, including a minute and 29 seconds of five on three, the Sharks did not score a power play goal. Their penalty kill was much better, giving them some short-handed chances as well as preventing the Panthers from scoring on three power plays.
The Panthers started out with a flurry of shots on Alex Stalock. He kept them out of the net and the rebounds weren’t dangerously placed but he didn’t hold on to any of those shots, and the Sharks had their hands full trying to get the puck out of their zone.
Once they did get it out, the top line of Thornton, Brent Burns and Pavelski had better luck holding the puck in the Panther’s zone and putting some shots on net. Florida goaltender Tim Thomas didn’t let that go on for very long before catching hold of one of those shots.
After four minutes, the teams had a combined eight shots on net, three of those for the Sharks, two of them from Brent Burns. Three minutes later, the Sharks had taken the lead in shots at 9-6. That early push from Florida had not disconcerted the Sharks.
The Sharks’ first power play came at 10:55 of the period, when Barkov went to the box for hooking. With 1:29 left in power play, Bracken Kearns drew a high sticking call against Marcel Goc, giving the Sharks a lengthy five on three. San Jose was too tentative about moving the puck, letting Florida clear the puck several times, even five on three.
Not long after the penalties expired, San Jose’s Tommy Wingels went to the box for an illegal check to the head. With more review than referees are allowed, it was hard to see where Wingels made contact with Upshall’s head. The Sharks killed it off anyway.
Through the first period, the Sharks registered 21 shots on goal. The Panthers only added two more over the second half of the period.
3:20 into the second, Bergenheim escaped the San Jose defense and drove to the net to meet Stalock one on one. Stalock closed the door and held on through a few extra whacks and jabs before the whistle blew. That was an important save but it didn’t motivate the Sharks right away. A few minutes later, the Sharks had to kill a penalty when Brad Stuart was called for cross checking Tomas Kopecky.
The Sharks survived that penalty, and followed it up with a foray into Panthers territory, but almost eight minutes in to the period, the Sharks didn’t have a shot on goal, while the Panthers had six. The Sharks got their first shot at 12:08 of the period, from John McCarthy.
The Sharks were back on the penalty kill at 9:12, when Bracken Kearns was called for high-sticking. The Panthers’ power play was more dangerous this time, registering several shots in the first minute.
The Panthers lost the last 15 seconds of their power play to a high stick of their own, a questionable call on Scottie Upshall. The Sharks didn’t waste a lot of time starting their attack, but the Panthers cleared the puck and attacked short-handed in the first minute of the Sharks’ man advantage.
The last 30 seconds of the power play showed more urgency from San Jose but didn’t produce. Upshall gave them another chance less than three minutes later, with a hooking call. This call was less dubious as he hooked his stick securely around Sharks defenseman Justin Braun.
Upshall sat in the box for the full two minutes, as the Sharks’ power play did not score.
As the period wound down, with the game still scoreless, Stalock had a close call with Jonathan Huberdeau right up in his lap. After a brief scuffle along the boards, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns got control of the puck and sent it up ice, where Joe Thornton was making a break. With Florida’s Mike Weaver and Dmitry Kulikov chasing him, Thornton pulled away and lifted the puck gently over Thomas to break the zero-zero tie. Assists went to Burns and Pavelski.
Early in the second period, Matt Nieto tried that. The breakaway was less surprising sice Nieto is known for his speed, but he tried to go five hole. Tim Thomas wasn’t likely to let the rookie get the better of him so soon after Thornton had beaten him. Thomas is notorious for luring players into shooting five hole, and disappointing them. A quick study, Nieto wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
Back in the Sharks’ zone, Dan Boyle made the curious decision to put his stick shaft down on the ice to prevent a pass from getting to Upshall in front of the net. That didn’t work at all, and cost him seconds to get back in position. Nieto was all over Upshall, which gave Stalock just barely enough time to get a leg back across the crease and block the shot.
Tim Kennedy went the other way after that, where he drove the net and took an awkward-looking shot. Patrick Marleau and Matt Nieto were in hot pursuit and when the rebound popped out with Tim Thomas off balance, Nieto was able to get a quick shot over the Florida goalie. Assists went to Kennedy and Marleau.
Seven minutes later, the Sharks took a 3-0 lead when Pavelski took advantage of Thomas’s aggressive style. Thomas came out of the paint to cut down the options for Brad Stuart as he took a shot from the blue line. Brent Burns tipped that shot, but Thomas blocked it. Unfortunately for Thomas, Pavelski was there too, almost behind him, to pick up the rebound and knock it in. Assists initially went to Stuart and Braun, but were changed to Burns and Stuart, confirming the tip.
The Sharks outshot the Panthers in that final period 11-5, and 39-24 in the game.
The Sharks will play their next game on Saturday at 11am Pacific Time, in Tampa Bay against the Lightning.
Martin Havat came off of the injured reserve list Thursday but did not play. Scott Hannan went on the list with what is likely a head injury, but is still described as only “upper body.” Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Raffi Torres and Adam Burish remain on the injured list.