The San Jose Sharks struggled to beat the Atlanta Thrashers Saturday, going scoreless through the first two periods. With how much I point out play that is lacking even in wins and the fact that I stated in yesterday’s recap of the Kings game that the Sharks had better beat the Thrashers, you might expect a harsh response to this game.
Then again, having stated that, perhaps you were clever enough to see that is not the direction I will go. I shall have to throw a deke in there in the future.
Hockey is an unpredictable sport. It’s one of the things that makes it great. You cannot judge a team’s play by its record and the record of its opponent, expecting blow-outs when the top team in the league plays the second-worst, even at the end of a four-game road trip three time zones away from home.
You have to look at the intensity of their play on the ice. That was there form the start.
Perhaps one of the reasons was the return of Tomas Plihal, Jody Shelley, and especially Jeremy Roenick. (Brad Lukowich came out for the pre-game skate, but was held out of the game.) As I said before, we needed his attitude back in the line-up. Roenick’s line (with Shelley and Lemieux—talk about an energy/instigating line!) got a rousing ovation when they took the ice for the first time.
“He’s our Energizer Bunny,” coach Todd McLellan said of Roenick. “He’s ready to go every shift. That will rub off on other players.”
That energy helped the Sharks to a seven to five edge in shots on goal through the first 20 minutes despite them having to kill both penalties in the period. Action was also more pronounced than those numbers indicate, as both teams were blocking shots (four by the Sharks and eight by the Thrashers); Atlanta out-performed the Sharks 21-13 in that category for the game.
Things got chippy in the second period, culminating in a fight between Shelley and Boris Valabik at the 14:43 mark that Shelley narrowly won. Before that, both teams had to kill a penalty.
But things changed in the third period. While Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen was stellar in turning away 19 shots through the first 40 minutes, it took just three shots and 30 seconds in the third to get one by him.
Milan Michalek passed the puck to Ryane Clowe near the face-off dot, and his wrist-shot bounced into the air. Joe Pavelski batted it down with his stick and brough it around, shooting from near the same spot. That shot bounced off Michalek and to Clowe, who backhanded the puck past Lehtonen on the far side.
The assist extended Pavelski’s scoring streak to six games (four goals in the first four games, two assists in the last two).
Valabik took an interference penalty 35 seconds later, and the Sharks broke their two-game power play slump on what turned out to be their next shot. With about 20 seconds left in the man-advantage, Rob Blake passed the puck from behind his blueline to Jeremy Roenick on the wing. He skated it into the zone and let go a cross-ice feed from along the halfboards to Jonathan Cheechoo, who kicked the puck to his stick and shot one that trickled through Lehtonen’s five-hole.
The assist was JR’s 700th of his career, and according to Sharks play-by-play announcer, Randy Hahn, Roenick indicated he might not retire after this season after all. That is good because we need his leadership and fire.
Soon after that score, however, the Sharks got into trouble. This time it was not because of complacency or overconfidence from the scores, it was because of penalties: Joe Thornton cross-checked Garnet Exelby in the back in plain view of the officials, and 44 seconds later Mike Grier tripped Ilya Kovalchuk.
The Sharks surivived almost a minute of the five-on-three before Todd White tapped the puck to Slava Kozlov, who just came stright at Nabokov along the goalline on the glove side. With that angle and too few defenders to take him out, he deked back and forth to get an opening, and when Evgeni Nabokov went down, he slid a pass in front of the crease to Bryan Little for the easy one-timer.
But about four minutes later, Niclas Havelid took a hooking penalty trying to stop Cheechoo from getting to a rebound. The Sharks, who had only two shots in their previous two power plays, sustained pressure for almost a minute in the middle of this power play and got two shots on goal.
After the puck was cleared and both teams made line changes, Devin Setoguchi got to a loose puck in front of the net and shot it. Tobias Engstrom blocked the shot, and it bounced out to Dan Boyle on the right point. His shot was going wide but it was tipped in by Thornton, who was sitting by the post on the far side.
From that point, only six more shots on goal were fired—the first three by San Jose, the last three by Altanta—although there were five missed shots and four blocked shots to go with six hits. In all, the Sharks out-hit Atlanta 30-22 and won 36 of 59 faceoffs (.610).
My three stars:
- Ryane Clowe had the first goal, was +1, and did a great job getting to loose pucks (two takeaways)
- Jeremy Roenick was a little sloppy at times (five giveaways) but won nine of ten faceoffs, had six hits, and the big assist on the go-ahead goal
- Evgeni Nabokov turned away 22 of 23 shots (.957)