The lengthy five-game East Coast road trip aside, the San Jose Sharks should have entered Tuesday night’s game against the Anaheim Ducks at SAP Center with a record better than .500.
Sure, they played some tough teams like the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, but they should have been able to hold a two-goal third period lead against a shorthanded Pittsburgh squad, and put together much better performances in Detroit and Madison Square Garden. You can argue their two wins on the trip — both 3-2 victories against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Islanders — were games they should feel fortunate to have squeaked out two points. Even their home opener against the L.A. Kings could have gone either way until Brent Burns’ third period goal.
In essence, we have yet to see the Sharks control a full game and re-gain the mojo that took them to the Stanley Cup Final a few months ago.
A Step in the Right Direction
On Tuesday, we got our first glimpse of a “complete win” as the Sharks beat the Ducks 2-1 on Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s overtime game-winner. They should have scored more than two goals, as the Sharks had five power play opportunities — managing just one goal — and controlled much of the game after scoring first.
In all, San Jose outshot Anaheim 36-20, allowing only a soft goal in the second period as Martin Jones couldn’t handle a slow-moving puck deflected on net. That, though, is hockey — the Sharks outshot the Ducks 15-5 in the second frame but instead gave up the lead and had to pull out the win in a nail-biter.
“That’s a tough game to be 1-1 in overtime after carrying the play for so long,” head coach Peter DeBoer told the media. “It could be disheartening, but our group stuck with it.”
They did, and out came a spectacular golden goal by Vlasic at 1:24 of the overtime period. Not known for his scoring prowess, the defenseman beat Corey Perry to a loose puck with clear space ahead and sped in on goal, channeling his inner Bobby Orr as he left his skates to finish the breakaway.
“I knew I could outskate Perry,” Vlasic told NBCSN’s Brett Hedican. “Put my head down, went to get it, and put it in the back of the net.”
Vlasic is better known for his work in the defensive zone than his shootout moves, but the 29-year-old can be an X-factor on offense; his 39 points last season ranked second amongst Sharks’ defensemen behind Burns. He has a sneaky, accurate shot, is a good skater and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
“He’s got some speed when he wants to use it, and he’s a big game player,” DeBoer said. “That’s what he does. Those guys find another level at key times, and he’s one of those guys.”
A Strong Bounce-Back Win
This was a game where the Sharks needed not just Vlasic but everyone to step up. They were riding back-to-back deflating losses after giving away a win in Pittsburgh and falling flat in Detroit, but they came out on Tuesday with the appropriate energy and effort to beat a division rival.
“It was one of those games that we needed everybody and everyone showed up and played hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “There wasn’t much out there at times, we had to keep going and keep forechecking.”
Case in point: the penalty kill, which killed off all three Anaheim power plays, including a 5-on-3 in the first period. DeBoer made it clear during the preseason that he wanted to see his team improve shorthanded; the Sharks finished in the bottom third of the league last season on the penalty kill.
“It’s an area we want to make sure we’re good at,” DeBoer said after the preseason finale. “It’s an area we’ve flagged for big improvement this year.”
Through seven games, they are middle of the pack at an 81.8 percent clip — not as good as the perfect 24-for-24 during the preseason, but shutting down a potent Ducks’ offense on the man advantage is a good sign.
It was just one of many positive signs on Tuesday, as the Sharks put together a complete game for the first time this season — a performance they hope to duplicate many times more.