SAN JOSE,Calif.(The Hockey Writers) Hockey Night in Canada came to San Jose Saturday, but the bragging rights belonged south of the border at the end, as the San Jose Sharks rode a third period power play goal to a 3-2 win at home.
The Sharks’ power play has been decent this year, especially at home, but recently they have struggled, so getting a win in this fashion was particularly satisfying for San Jose on the second game of a five-game home stand.
“It (Hockey Night) is something I grew up watching,” said Patrick Marleau, who scored the game-winner. “Everyone huddled around the TV on Saturday night, so it’s a little bit special. I think we were trying to simplify things, get shots through and get people to the net. It’s nice to finally get one on the power play.”
San Jose scored first, on a beautiful give and go with Martin Havlat proving it’s more blessed to give at the holiday season, taking the return from Michal Handzus and scoring at 8:36 of the first. The goal was Havlat’s first even-strength marker this season.
“It was just an instinct play,” Handzus said. “We’re all glad he got on the sheet, because you can grip the stick a little too tight when you haven’t scored in a long time.”
The Oilers tied the game on a Jordan Eberle toe drag and goal late in the first, at 17:16. The Sharks have shown a disturbing pattern of allowing late-period goals recently, and this night was no exception.
The Oilers’ “young guns” line of Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins played as advertised all evening. “They’ve got a lot of pressure in everybody’s zone right now,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, “the way they are playing. If you’re a fan of hockey, they are a great threesome to watch. They are very gifted.”
The first period was particularly marred by an uncharacteristically bad puck handling performance by sharks captain Joe Thornton, who had two egregious giveaways, passing directly to white shirts in the offensive zone, early in the period, and wound up with four giveaways, half his team’s total. Thornton’s largesse nearly matched that of the entire Oilers squad for the period.
“Jumbo, probably admittedly so, didn’t have his “A” game tonight,” McLellan said. “There were a lot of turnovers coming off his stick, but he found a way to get us a big goal, and that was important.”
Another very disturbing trend for the Sharks all year has been shaky-to-awful special teams play. The Sharks penalty kill, at 73%, was tied for 29th in the league entering play, while their power play, which has been quite inconsistent, was tied for 12th overall with 17.6% success.
“I’m not sure we won the special teams battle tonight,” McLellan said. “I think we ended up in a tie.”
On their first man-advantage of the game, Jason Demers left a pass for Havlat at the blue line as he was exiting the Sharks’ zone – but Havlat could not control it and Ryan Jones picked it up, skated in on Niemi and beat him glove-side for a 2-1 lead at 5:28 of the second.
“The interception in football isn’t always the quarterback’s fault,” said McLellan. “Sometimes, it’s the receiver as well. It’s just a mistake we made.”
Another significant shortcoming for San Jose this year is 4-on-4 play; entering the game, they had allowed five goals in that situation, while scoring none. At 14:33 of the second, with Theo Peckham and Havlat both in the box for a short scuffle, the Sharks scored their first 4-on-4 goal of the season when Joe Thornton stayed with the puck and the play across the crease, finally poking a shot behind Nikolai Khabibulin at the right edge of the net for the tie.
“We haven’t had a lot of overtime games,” McLellan said. “We haven’t been in a lot of 4-on-4 situations, but to be successful in overtime we have to score in those situations. It was nice to see us connect on that.”
San Jose took the lead at 6:11 of the third on the power play goal from Marleau. The Sharks won the draw in the offensive zone, and Dan Boyle banked the puck across the ice off the sideboards and to Joe Pavelski behind the net. Pavelski tried a wrap-around and lost control of the puck, but it landed in front of Marleau just outside the right crease for an easy score.
With the win, San Jose jumped to the top of the Pacific Division, tied with Dallas but with a game in hand.
Khabibulin stopped 34 shots on the night, including a flurry when the Sharks were on a power play at the end of the second period. His record fell to 10-7-3. Antti Niemi only saw 25 shots, stopping 23, including a great blocker save at the corner of the net on a breakaway. Niemi is now 13-6-3 on the year. Next up will be the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday night.