It was not just playing at home for the first time. It was putting the dominance of the 2011-12 Pacific Division champion Phoenix Coyotes over them to bed. It was seeing Doug Wilson, a part owner who is ever the captain, come into the dressing room to kick his goalie's pads and tell him he bounced back nicely with the big save.
The Sharks took the lead on a late first-period power play, with Logan Couture redirecting a point shot from Joe Pavelski off the Joe Thornton draw for a goal five seconds in. But while T.J. Galiardi is in the box with a double minor, Andrew Desjardins is improperly called for the traditional two-minute high sticking.
The Sharks were under 12 seconds away from getting Desjardins back when Steve Sullivan one-timed home a tying goal from the back side. They killed the rest of the Galiardi penalty and made it out of the second period. But after they squandered a third-period power play with their own penalty, and Antoine Vermette put home a goal in their brief advantage that followed. The home crowd wanted interference, but replays showed that Shane Doan was helped into Antti Niemi.
That was when the soft goal happened to Niemi. It was from a tough angle and the corner was not properly sealed. As he looked back to see how far it had trickled, it crossed the goal line.
The Sharks pushed back. Patrick Marleau credited Havlat and Couture with getting the team going, and the first line was able to build upon it. Pushing the puck behind the defenders, Thornton found Marleau open in the slot with a wide open cage a few feet in front of him.
Picking up their goalie was a factor: "Niemi's held us in there...very first game this year, if it wasn't for him we wouldn't have won." But Nemo deserves much of the credit for stopping a two-on-none breakaway shot by Phoenix captain Shane Doan about a minute after Marleau put the Sharks back in the game.
The comeback was also not complete without the next goal, which came about four minutes later. All three second line forwards tried to get the puck through the defense, and each was able to get it into better scoring position until Havlat could backhand the rebound home.
That provided the springboard for Marleau to beat Jason LaBarbera on a semi-breakaway in the final two minutes for the win. He passed up a chance at an empty net hat trick goal for a teammate's better opportunity. Though that failed, Thornton eventually did feed the unguarded cage a biscuit to add to his three assists.
San Jose was a little careless with the puck, giving it away 11 times to just two for Phoenix. But they won 10 more faceoffs, had two more takeaways, eight more hits and seven more blocks to reach the same number of shots (31).
The Sharks best players were at their best, though Thornton still described them as "a work in progress." Marleau was asked what he did differently to get off to such a hot start for him specifically as well as the entire line:
"I was able to get a couple camps, went to Vail, went to Phoenix and we worked on some skills" including quicker shooting. "(I have) been the recipient of a lot of good passes and really good plays, and I'll keep thanking them if they keep (sending them). Sometimes they keep coming (in bunches)."
Couture was also asked about scoring in bunches and being able to come back from 3-1:
"Once we get down, there's still belief in this team that we can come back" because "we know the talent we have, the offensive capabilities of players on this team that we can score goals in bunches like we did the other night in the first and tonight in the third."
Coach Todd McLellan had a similar message: "Well, we've only done it for three nights. Let's see...when we get into games 10 and 15 and everybody's banged up and the fatigue factor..." He said he is almost tired of using the words "familiarity, continuity" with first line success.
But with 12 of their 15 goals scored with the first line on the ice (power play or even strength), is there a scoring imbalance? McLellan said opportunities will come and pointed out that some players fulfill other roles, specifically noting Michal Handzus blocking shots on the penalty kill.
Couture added, "We're offensive players and coach puts us out there in offensive situations." He acknowledged it is nice to have secondary scoring, but noted the checking lines were "working hard, creating chances, drawing penalties, so eventually it's gonna come."
Inside Hockey sought feedback on Matt Irwin that led to accolades about him from Marleau and Couture. But the response with passion came from the coach, noting it "sure looks like he belongs. (He's) not afraid to jump up, use his legs, create a scoring opportunity."
Looking for a link in the numbers, it appears the third game of the year was brought to you by the number three. McLellan has frequently set his sights on three goals as the magic number—score that and you win, give that up and you lose.
The Sharks have scored at least four goals on all three goalies they have faced. But defensively they only held Calgary under three. McLellan addressed the defensive let-downs:
"Tonight was one of those nights when you would like to have the third one back as a goaltender yet he comes up with the big save right after that. The Edmonton game, 6-1, guys play a little differently...so I don't think we can completely evaluate that yet. We haven't talked about three being our magic number...when you don't talk about it, you don't play to it. Maybe we'll keep that up (as a goal)."
Despite some defensive let-downs, the Sharks beat a strong opponent in regulation despite some questionable calls going against them. Were the regular review option available right now, they would get a four-star (one to five scale) rating. Picking three stars when there are four players scoring multiple points on one team alone is hard, but here are the final Examiner choices:
- Patrick Marleau is top star for the third straight game, all of which he had two goals. He also had an assist, a hit and won one of two faceoffs.
- Joe Thornton had a goal (albeit an empty netter) and three assists to just one giveaway, won six of 11 draws and had two blocks.
- Joe Pavelski had three assists to one giveaway and added a takeaway and block, but was just four of eight in the faceoff circle.