On Tuesday, Feb. 26, the San Jose Sharks faced a lot more than the Colorado Avalanche. Having just come off a 1-4-1 road trip in a month in which they were 1-6-3, they were in a complete tailspin. They had just 12 goals in those 10 games and were held under two goals in seven of them.
In the big picture, this aging roster coming off its worst season since 2002-03 was technically out of the playoffs. They essentially needed four more wins over the final 31 games than their rivals, the Anaheim Ducks, to win the NHL Pacific Division.
Colorado was a full game back of San Jose for that final Western Conference berth into the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, but had gone 3-2-1 in the last six games. Three players out even provided an excuse.
San Jose was short three players, as well. But one has been a healthy scratch, another should have been and the third may never have been healthy enough to suit up. Moreover, this team won in January with three players out on the blue line alone.
There were no more excuses. That was how the Sharks played.
It took just 25 seconds for San Jose’s offense to break through. Coach Todd McLellan tried new lines again, and the Logan Couture-Joe Thornton-Martin Havlat literally netted the score: Havlat got the puck to Thornton, who put a blind pass from Semyon Varlamov’s left flank straight through the slot, where Couture flew in to roof short side.
San Jose kept the pressure on throughout the period, winning in the circle and peppering Varlamov with 16 shots. However, Colorado tied things up when Jason Demers backhanded the puck right onto Chuck Kobasew’s stick for the easy goal. Otherwise, Demers and Justin Braun were strong enough to earn extra shifts in the absence of Brent Burns.
The Sharks were able to regain the lead about three minutes into the second period. James Sheppard carried the puck around the back of the net and reversed a backhand pass through the crease, where for Avalanche forward T.J. Galiardi was able to get his stick free for the easy redirection. Adam Burish got his first point of 2013 with the secondary assist.
It was the first goal scored with any line designated as San Jose’s fourth. Between them, the two checking lines have scored in just three games of 18 games. That is why Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News wrote a piece breaking down the lack of secondary scoring.
After the go-ahead score, the Sharks stopped winning draws. They managed to out-shoot the Avalanche 14-6 in the second period—aided by one very aggressive power play—but lost that edge in the third period and were out-shot, 10-8.
Eventually, something was bound to go in. Antti Niemi was ready for a flurry of shots, but met an Avalanche attack that eventually broke the dam in the last four minutes. It looked as though depth forward Kobasew had his second goal, but they ruled that Mark Olver’s shot had already crossed the line.
Even with their fifth power play opportunity that included 58 seconds of overtime four-on-three play, the Sharks could not get a goal on the man-advantage or reach three goals for just the second time in February. But thanks to goals by Michal Handzus and Patrick Marleau in the shootout, they got the two points.
The Sharks are certainly not content to need a shootout to get three goals. If they are going to even make the playoffs, they have to make their opportunities count. But they had 41 shots in 80 attempts while giving up 27 in 47 attempts, and had the Avalanche on their heels.
The shot dominance is especially noteworthy given San Jose’s hospitality with the puck. By losing two more draws with six more takeaways but 10 more giveaways, they gave their guests six more possessions. Considering that, it is understandable Colorado would amass 10 more blocks and 18 more hits.
It is ironic that when the Sharks won in January, it was while turning over the puck. They finished the road trip strong in limiting giveaways but still dropped two of three. Turnovers are never a good thing, but the attack mentality that led to them also kept the Avalanche on their heels for most of the game.
The Sharks simply had a legitimate win taken from them by superior net-minding. While choosing just three stars in this game was hard, the top choice was easy:
- Varlamov saved 39 of 41 (.951 save percentage) to absolutely steal a point for his team. There must have been at least a dozen prime scoring chances among them.
- Niemi had several big saves among his 25 (.926) and was a trickled goal away from perfection in the shootout.
- In nearly 23 minutes on the ice, Colorado’s John Mitchell won 17 of 26 draws (65.4 percent), had four shots on goal, blocked one, registered a takeaway and delivered seven hits.