Saturday, January 26 was the second home game of the 2013 NHL season for the San Jose Sharks. For more than half the first period, they were being pushed around by the visiting Colorado Avalanche.
Then they found the form they had in the previous three games, all of which had at least four shots getting past the other team’s goalie. Most would tell you the key play was a hit by Brad Stuart in the final five minutes that changed things.
In reality, the hit was a result of improved play rather than a cause of it.
Beyond the 12-minute mark, the Avs had attempted 12 shots to four by the Sharks and had all five on goal. Yet they managed to hold an edge of one in both blocks and hits.
But then something happened the Avs did not expect. Their net was found by an usual object and Ryane Clowe forced Semyon Varlamov to make a save.
Varlamov handled it fine. But the Sharks took a liking to putting more shots in his direction, and it was not to be his night on many of those subsequent shots. His counterpart, Thomas Greiss, made a few great saves with a light (24 shots against) workload for his first career shutout.
Clowe’s shot was the first of a run of three out of four before the Stuart hit, but more telling was the 11-4 edge in attempts. Yet Gabriel Landeskog had as many shots on goal for the Avs as the entire Sharks team, so Brad Stuart did something about it.
The youngest ever NHL captain was came forward with the puck along the boards and never made it to the blue line. Stuart decked him hard, and the response was warranted but unwise: Ryan O’Byrne came across the ice to go after Stuart, drew an extra minor for instigating plus another for getting that penalty while wearing a face shield.
Stuart did not get a penalty on the play. He said after the game that he had no problem with Colorado’s response (he declined to have Adam Burish intercede) and does not expect any league discipline, but you never know.
Looking at the replay, it was at the very least a high hit. Even when the head is not targeted, hits like that must be taken out of the NHL because of how much danger we are learning regarding concussions—for liability if not moral obligations.
At some point, referees will be instructed to give high hits like this two minutes. For now when they are unintentional but perhaps careless, small fines are likely. If he is suspended, that would be a big blow to a thin blue line that will be called into action against the visiting Vancouver Canucks for the second consecutive night Sunday at 5:00 p.m. PST.
Fortunately, the Sharks were able to get rest for their top players. Only Dan Boyle (23:07), Matt Irwin (22:48) and Justin Braun had more than Joe Pavelski’s 18:19 on the ice. Burish was on the ice for 9:58 and that was lowest on the team.
That should help the Sharks come into Sunday’s game rested despite attempting 17 more shots and getting 19 more on net. They could have done better on the blue collar stat sheet and did not control the puck as much as their shot total would indicate: 12 fewer hits, four more faceoff wins more than nullified by nine more turnovers (San Jose giveaways plus Colorado takeaways).
But this was a battle of shot-blocking teams. While Colorado had one more block, San Jose blocked a higher percentage of attempts (38.3 percent to 31.2). They blocked only one less shot with their defense than they did with their goalie (23-24), while the Avs allowed 19 more shots on goal than they blocked.
Of all things, the penalty kill was brutally efficient if rarely called upon. One of the reasons the Sharks started on their heels is back-to-back first period penalties, but they did not allow a shot on either kill.
Colorado cannot say that, giving up all the Sharks scoring because of their struggles. Patrick Marleau scored within both halves of the double minor for instigating just 1:47 after the penalties and is the second player in NHL history to begin a season with four multi-goal games. Dan Boyle got secondary assists on both, and Joe Thornton and Pavelski took turns collecting primary assists.
The Avs gave the Sharks another power play in the first minute of the second period. This time it was Thornton cashing in with 10 seconds left on the man advantage, with Clowe and Marleau assisting.
They technically killed the penalty they took later in the period, but 11 seconds after it was over Matt Irwin blasted a stray puck from the point through a crowd for his first NHL goal; Martin Havlat and Clowe got the assists. The Avs also got a cheap kill in the final two minutes of the game because the Sharks were not rubbing it in despite the liberties being taken on them.
The three stars were an easy call:
- Patrick Marleau: 2 G, 1 A, a hit and one of two in the faceoff circle
- Thomas Greiss turned away everything for the first time in his NHL career
- Matt Irwin got his first goal, was second in ice time and led both sides in blocked shots with six