By Mary Walsh
AP photo SJ Sharks Joonas Donskoi (27) scoring against Florida Panthers
SAN JOSE- The Sharks defeated the Florida Panthers 5-2 on Thursday. It was a great response to a very disappointing loss two days earlier against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was also a noteworthy game for some other reasons. Joonas Donskoi scored a goal in his first game against the team that drafted him, and earned the first star of the game. It was Sharks defenseman Justin Braun’s 300th game. It was goaltender Al Stalock’s first home start of the season, and rookie forward Nikolay Goldobin earned his first NHL assist.
Al Stalock’s first home start began with a flurry of red and white. The Panthers began the period with a relentless attack that lasted several minutes. Less than 3 minutes in and recent Sharks call up Micheal Haley fought Shawn Thornton. This may have been a response to the Sharks being mostly trapped in their own zone for the span before that.
The Sharks finally did push play into the other end. After a few forays, the Sharks got serious. Brent Burns made a behind the back pass across the crease, and the puck was thrown at the net repeatedly by Joe Thornton, Joonas Donskoi and Burns too. They kept Florida goaltender Al Montoya jumping. The crowd was still exclaiming disappointment that none of those shots went in when Brent Burns took another shot and did score.
The second goal was scored by Joonas Donskoi, with assists to Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton. The puck only crossed the line after several bodies piled up in the blue paint, mostly Panthers. One Panther even launched himself over the paint into the net, as if to prevent a goal. But Donskoi just fell after him and knocked the puck in anyway. The goal stood up after a review.
The third goal was scored by the Panthers. After mostly winning a faceoff in the Sharks’ zone, Vincent Trocheck chased the puck to the crease and shot it past Stalock, who was a little too far from the net to get back in time.
Near the end of the first period, coach DeBoer started mixing up his defensive pairs. Vlasic skated with Burns, while Martin was on the ice with Dillon and then Braun was out there with Dillon. The defenseman shuffle did not carry over to the second period. Whatever occured to keep Matt Tennyson off the ice in those later minutes of the first, he was back with Dillon when their shift came in the second.
The second period again started with a strong push from the Panthers, but it did not take the Sharks long to push back.
At 3:48, Patrick Marleau skated in with the puck, going around a defenseman and cutting back across the crease. He had to make a hard turn to get back from the goal line and to the front of the blue paint. The maneuver looked unlikely to succeed. Maybe the goaltender thought so too, because he was not ready for Marleau put the puck in the far side of the net. Assists went to Joel Ward and Tomas Hertl.
The first penalty was called at 10:47 of the secod, a slashing call to Florida’s Dmitri Kulikov. The Sharks could not do anything with that. The next penalty came at 13:26, this time to Donskoi for interference on Jaromir Jagr. The Panthers did make something of their power play and with a minute and 20 seconds remaining in the penalty, they won a faceoff, made a quick cross-ice pass and Brandon Pirri sent it in from well above the circles. Assists went to Brian Campbell and Jussi Jokinen.
That seemed to galvanize the Sharks and a hush fell over the Tank for several shifts. Joe Thornton took an especially long shift and finally found himself in the zone with his linemates. A pass across the slot from Thornton to Donskoi resulted in a fine-looking goal. Unfortunately, Florida coach Gerard Gallant challenged the play as offside. The goal was overturned after the review.
In a three on one with trailing Panthers, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and Nikolay Goldobin descended on Montoya. A fine pass from Goldobin to Vlasic set up Vlasic’s first goal of the season. It was also Goldobin’s first NHL assist.
At the end of the second, the shots were tied at 22.
1:33 into the third, Tommy Wingels was called for roughing. The Sharks penalty kill was very efficient, limiting the Panthers to one and done attacks. As soon as Wingels was released, the Sharks went the other way and got set up for a couple of emphatic shots.
At 3:56, Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad went to the box for hooking. The Sharks had some trouble getting set up and even had to go back to their own zone when a pass went awry and came up icing. When they finally did get set up, they only got a couple of shots on net before the Panthers pushed them back out.
At 12:20, Dillon went to the box for tripping Garrett Wilson. The Panthers did not get a shot on net during the power play, and the Sharks went right to the attack at the end of the penalty. Play was in the Panthers’ zone when the next whistle blew.
The Panthers pulled their goalie with a couple of minutes left. With just over a minute left in the game, Chris Tierney scored an empty-net goal. Assists went to Joe Thornton and Brent Burns.
Final score 5-2, San Jose.
Apart from the score, the game was very close in many regards. The shot count was 33-32 Florida, with the teams being tied at 11 each in each of the first and second periods. The Panthers outhit the Sharks 25-17, and won just one fewer faceoffs, with the Sharks leading 28-27. The Sharks blocked a few more shots, with 18 to Florida’s 13. With all of that counted and calculated, it is safe to say that Al Stalock had a better game than Al Montoya did.
The Sharks next play on Saturday at 7:30 when they host the visiting Anaheim Ducks. The San Jose Barracuda will also play at 1:00 pm for the season’s first double header at SAP.