In my preview of Saturday’s game, I laid out reasons why the Sharks had to beat Columbus to prove they were ready to win Lord Stanley’s Cup. They did not (losing 3-2 in overtime), and thus they are not.
They still have the best point percentage in the NHL. There are only two other teams with a chance to win the President’s Trophy for the best record in the regular season, and they both have issues, too.
For instance, the Bruins are the team with the best record in the East and the second-best point percentage in the NHL. They have the league’s best defence and second-best offence, and thus lead the NHL in goal differential.
But they have only one third-period comeback and have not won a Stanley Cup since long before the Sharks were even a franchise. They have not even made it out of the first round of the playoffs since 1999, and are thus no more worthy of “team-to-beat” status than San Jose.
Meanwhile, the Red Wings are just coming off a five-game losing streak, have one of the league’s five worst penalty kills, and give up more goals than 18 other teams, mostly because they do not have a real number one goaltender. They also lost the only fair match-up of the two teams this year in which neither team was coming off a game and travel the previous night.
But right now, the Wings are a more worthy team to put into top dog status. Why? Simply because they are the champions and thus have already proven themselves.
So how did San Jose lose this one?
Once again, they were sloppy and showed up late, appearing not to respect Columbus enough. Two turnovers led to two goals on Columbus’ first two shots.
The first was a careless backhand pass across to the middle of the zone by Alexei Semenov, who seemed to revert to his poor play of last season just when I started to sing his praises. Jason Williams got his stick on the puck and roofed a quick wrist-shot to the near side by Evgeni Nabokov just 1:46 into the game.
The next was a neutral zone turnover that led to a breakaway by sniper Rick Nash. Nabby was deked to the ice by Nash who put in the easy backhander, and Columbus was up 2-0 before the first period was half over.
San Jose bounced back with an early power play goal 54 seconds into the second period. Joe Thornton got the puck to Christian Ehrhoff, who faked a shot and found Devin Setoguchi in the slot.
But that was all the Sharks could muster on Dan LaCosta, making his first career NHL start because of illness and injury hitting all three goalies in front of him on the depth chart, until less than four minutes remained in regulation. At that point, Marcel Goc won a faceoff to Mike Grier, who got the puck back to Dan Boyle. Boyle threw it to Ehrhoff who slapped it through a screen to tie the game.
Columbus almost took the lead again on the very next shift, but the Sharks held on until the extra session. They were outshooting Columbus 26-16 at this point, and appeared to have all the momentum.
Overtime featured good scoring chances both ways, and after LaCosta turned aside the Sharks’ fourth shot in the first 80 seconds, they came back the other way. Jan Hejda moved the puck to R.J. Umberger, who took it on a mini-break and went five-hole on Nabby. He made the save, but defenceman Christian Backman poked in the puck that had trickled through and sat between Nabby and the goal line.
Both teams won both games at home in the season series, with both of Columbus’ wins coming in overtime and both San Jose’s coming in regulation.