By Matthew T.F. Harrington
photo credit: leadercall.com SJ Sharks Logan Courture
SAN JOSE, Calif. – When the schedule makers at the NBC Sports Network put Wednesday’s San Jose Sharks-Philadelphia Flyers match-up on the channel’s “Rivalry Night” there must have been some clairvoyants in the room. The midweek heavyweight tilt at the SAP Center had the type of snarl usually reserved for the Battle of California or the Keystone State Showdown.
Despite the distant between Silicon Valley and the City of Brotherly Love there was no, well, love lost between the two teams on the ice. San Jose (18-16-2) skated away with a 4-2 win in a heavy contest loaded with 53 hits, 46 penalty minutes and a few goals as well. Joe Thornton and Brent Burns lit the lamp for the Sharks, while Joe Pavelski scored a pair. In total, San Jose scored 3 power play tallies. Logan Couture had a pair of assists in his return to the Sharks lineup.
Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier tallied Philadelphia’s markers. Martin Jones made 17 saves on 19 shots to give the Sharks their 16th win in the last 19 games against Philly since 2002.
“Our special teams was the difference,” said Sharks coach Pete DeBoer. “That was a desperate team that came in here. They tried to be physical to the point of taking some bad penalties and we made them pay for that.”
Ever the cagey veteran, Joe Thornton inserted himself into the fray almost immediately Wednesday. The 36-year-old center was engaged from the drop of the puck, levying a pair of hits and nearly dropping the gloves with Radko Gudas after a heated discussion in the first period.
It was only a matter of time before no. 19 found his way onto the scoresheet, be it by roughing minor, fighting major, his usual assist or a goal. Luckily for Jumbo, it proved to be the latter at the 9:53 mark of the second period after the alternate captain flipped the puck over Mason’s shoulder on a San Jose power play.
“I was just enjoying the game,” said Thornton. “That’s why you play the game, the fun moments.”
Thornton started the play, taking the puck behind the visitors’ net. He swung the puck to Mason’s left, connecting with Patrick Marleau at the faceoff circle. Marleau went back up the wing to Thornton, who had now positioned himself just outside the crease. From there, Thornton slapped the puck up and over Mason’s left shoulder for his 7th goal of the season.
Logan Couture, returning to the ice after missing 7 games with an arterial bleed in his right leg, also assisted on Thornton’s goal. It was Couture’s 3rd point of the season (all assists) in just his 6th game after missing 24 of the first 26 games with a leg injury.
“It’s great,” said Burns when asked how it feels to have Couture back. “It’s tough when you see a guy out for a while. You see how hard he’s working and the bad bounce when he came back. IT’s great to see. IT’s going to be a little while for him to eventually feel comfortable, but it’s good to see him back.
“You could see it in the lineup right away,” added Pavelski. “That’s another big time player. What he brings to the team, the energy he brings and the confidence definitely helps.”
He looked comfortable in his return, playing 15:22 minutes with a -1 rating. He would also assist on Burns’ game-tying strike in the 3rd.
“It was a great crowd,” said Couture. “We need to build on this, but it feels good to come back and win the game.”
In total, Couture saw 5:43 of power play time.
“On the power play I felt comfortable,” said Couture “I had the puck. It was lucky that we had some many power plays. I was able to establish that game, feel the puck, get some chances, build my confidence up that way.”
“It comes naturally to him,” said DeBoer of Couture’s work on the power play. “Those guys have a special chemistry. We just have to keep that up.”
The Flyers (15-14-7) responded with a Claude Giroux score with 4:11 left in the 2nd after the centerman won the faceoff from Thornton and flung the puck into Jones’ midsection. While Jones made the initial save, the puck’s momentum carried it down to the ice and between the netminder’s pads for the Flyers captain’s 12th goal of the campaign.
“I’ve had Claude on a couple teams I coached,” said DeBoer. “I had him on the Canadian team. He’s a special guy. He’s the best in the world at different things. The goal surprised me, but not who did it.”
Philadelphia took the 2-1 lead on a defensive lapse by the Sharks early in the 3rd. Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier were sprung on a 2-on-0. Couturier took Simmonds’ feed and put it on his backhand to best Jones for his 6th of the year 4:19 into the 3rd.
Though the Sharks haven’t had many power play opportunities at home (their 44 man advantages entering Wednesday ranks dead last in the NHL), they also haven’t taken advantage of the special teams edge either. They have the 8th worst power play percentage at home this year, a mere 15.9 percent. Despite those figures, San Jose managed to get it down a man up not once, but twice, Wednesday night with Brent Burns finding the equalizer 5:54 into the final period of regulation.
“In the past few games a bounce buried us at times,” said Pavelski. “We got that feeling on the bench tonight where it wasn’t going to get us down. We got a big power play goal from Burns to get us back in there. It felt good.
With RJ Umberger in the sin bin for slashing Brenden Dillon, the Sharks newly potent power play set up in the Flyers’ end. Joe Thornton took the puck from the right faceoff dot and slid it to Couture in the front right crease. Couture’s no-look backhand pass missed Marleau’s stick, but landed on a crashing Burns’ tape in the slot. Burns ripped the shot over Mason’s blocker to knot the contest up 2-2 with just under 14 minutes to play.
“We have certain sets we work on,” said Couture. “Burns’ goal is a set that we’ve had for a while. You have Marleau in the slot and he usually comes down the side which opens the backdoor for Burns.”
The power play nearly was the culprit of the game-winner for San Jose, but a matter of seconds changed the Sharks special teams night. Captain Joe Pavelski netted his 19th of the year just 3 seconds after Shane Gostisbehere exited the box at the 13:45 mark on a cross-ice one-timer from Justin Braun.
Pavelski, who missed Tuesday’s practice with the flu, earned his power play goal almost 5 ½ minutes later to ice the contest. The forward took a pass from Marleau on the boards and ripped a backhander past Mason for his second of the night after Marc-Eduoard Vlasic held the puck in at the blue line.
“You can see his importance to us,” said DeBoer. “All the big guys were great though, Thornton, Vlasic Braun, (Paul) Martin.”
The Sharks ended the night converting half of their power plays, going 3-for-6 with a Flyer in the box.
“Our power play unit does well when we’re moving and reading off each other,” said Burns.
When asked about how it felt for the NHL’s worst home team to get a win in front of a sold-out, the Sharks captain was frank.
“It’s what we expect,” said Pavelski. “Obviously now that’s the template we have to copy and play with. It was a good win tonight. We can’t get ahead of ourselves.”
The Sharks get another stab a wowing the home crowd when they welcome the Winnipeg Jets to the Shark Tank January. After that, they’ll continue the homestand with contests against Eastern Conference foes the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Tommy Wingels dropped the gloves twice, once in the second against Chris VandeVelde and again in the 3rd against Jakub Vorachek. Because only a punch or two was thrown, the 2nd altercation was ruled a minor for roughing, not a five minute fighting major. DeBoer on Wingels: “I thought Tommy Wingels had one of his best games all year. He was in the middle of it. He jumped in and fought for a teammate.” …Brent Burns leveled VandeVelde with a hit in the offensive zone that injured the Flyers Forward. Said Burns: “Most of the time I turn around and hit with my butt. I felt pretty strongly that I hit him in the midsection strongly. It’s tough to see someone get hurt. I hit him in the midsection, I don’t know if he hits his head on the ice or what but it’s tough to see.”