The first days after the break for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics are the last days teams have to evaluate their talent before the trade deadline on the 2013-14 NHL season. The San Jose Sharks won two of three on their Eastern Conference road trip, but did not earn their win over the New Jersey Devils Sunday, March 2.
The Sharks are hoping their trade deadline deals are not necessary because of the return of Logan Couture, Raffi Torres and Sunday scratch Adam Burish. However, Alex Stalock is among the pictured stars because he was more important in stealing this game and gets top-billing as a representative of the contrast between the numbers and what took place on the ice.
He turned away just 21 of 23 shots for a .913 save percentage, but many of those were high-quality scoring chances. The Devils played like a team wanting to avoid seeing aging teammates dumped at the trade deadline if they slip out of the Stanley Cup playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference. They only attempted 36 shots but gave up just 29 attempts in a game in which they were actually doing a lot of attacking.
San Jose officially only blocked two shots (Couture had at least one that was not credited to him...kind of like one of his goals Thursday), but did a great job clogging the shooting lanes. They only put 22 shots on net, but there was nothing New Jersey goalie Cory Schneider could do to stop four of them except to avoid the giveaway that allowed the first.
Despite being out-played a little in the first period, the Sharks drew first blood just over three minutes in to the second: Jason Demers slapped the puck into the slot where Patrick Marleau got his stick on it, leaving Schneider out of position to handle the rebound that came right to Couture.
The goal is Couture's third in three games since the break for the Sochi Olympics that allowed his hand (wrist?) to heal, and he needed quick hands on the play. When the Devils responded with a dominating 10-plus minutes to take the lead despite only managing six shots the entire period, it was another player Shark that used the break to heal answering 92 seconds later.
Torres got the puck from James Sheppard and entered the zone after the New Jersey goal, executing a perfect give-and-go with Joe Pavelski on a two-on-one to tie the game with a one-timer goal before Schneider could get back. Getting scoring from both players returning from injury in both wins on this road trip probably means San Jose is ready for a Stanley Cup run without major moves at the trade deadline.
The coaches then challenged the Sharks to go and win the third period, and ultimately they did. They have Stalock to thank for it.
The Devils registered seven of the first nine shot attempts and peppered his net with five shots on goal over 55 seconds before San Jose's counter: Joe Thornton got the puck to Pavelski attacking the middle of the offensive zone, who sent a backhand feed to the high slot that turned out to be the game-winning one-timer goal for Matt Nieto.
In the final minutes, Patrick Marleau added a goal thanks to another New Jersey giveaway. It was the fourth and final shot of the third period and the first in over seven minutes.
One thing the Sharks have to be given credit for is their penalty kill. Facing a unit that had scored six goals in its last 11 opportunities was held to one shot on four chances.
This was in part because of winning all five faceoffs. To show the possession balance of this game (both teams won 24 faceoffs and had three takeaways, with the Devils committing three more giveaways) they lost all four faceoffs on their one power play that also netted one shot and no goals.
In the end, San Jose did not look good in this game but beat a New Jersey team on the road that came into the day just two games out of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. The win means earning four of six points on the second-last trip to the Eastern Conference. Doing it with goaltending and penalty-killing is just the way to get ready for the nasty Western Conference games post-Easter.