The San Jose Sharks are limping to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, with several injured forwards and a 1-4-0 record in their last five thanks to scoring just four goals. In dire need of unlikely contributions, Marty Havlat and Adam Burish delivered against the former Pacific Division rival Dallas Stars Wednesday, February 5.
After missing the first 57 games of the season, Burish returned with little fanfare to play his old team. He talked about the fun he was having and mixing it up with his former teammates, revealing he wanted to fight on the first shift and then came back to the fun he was having:
You can kind of (tick) them off a little bit. They don't know why you're yelling at them. They give you a weird look. ...It's fun to beat (emphasis on the results over merely playing the game) your old team...because now I can text them. It's fun to laugh at them, make fun of them a little bit and they (have) nothing to say.
He did not score, but finished with three hits and a block. He also caught the eye of head coach Todd McLellan for what he brought to a line that was "energetic, played physically (and) responsible defensively in 10 minutes of good hockey."
Havlat's game caught everyone's eye. This was another of his performances that make his less-engaged games more frustrating, and an example of what San Jose misses during the 45 percent of his time with this team in which he has been unavailable due to injury.
In what McLellan called a "tight-checking (hits 24-20 Sharks), shot-blocking (21-18 Stars)" game reminiscent of the Stanley Cup playoffs that it was good for the team to play in and win, Havlat got the first marker. With just inside of two minutes left in the second period, he deflected a Scott Hannan shot-pass into the net from the slot. James Sheppard got the secondary assist for carrying the puck in deep enough to feed a wide-open point.
Over six minutes into the third period, Dallas answered: Tyler Seguin kept the puck deep in the zone to Trevor Daley, who found Valeri Nachushkin in the slot for the tying, one-timer goal. Alex Stalock never had a chance despite his diligent search for something he could have done differently after the game:
I figured (Daley) was going to pass it. I was kind of playing the guy to the side. He made a good pass—we'll look at it and see if it's a play I can push to the puck and be there.
His dedication was evident when talking about his best save to rob Team Canada representative Jamie Benn with the glove while falling forward and after sliding across the crease: "Those are the saves that it would be nice to make look a little simpler...something to work on."
Still, Stalock only had to make 19 saves because of the team effort. Despite losing the faceoff battle 36-38 and having eight more giveaways (22-14) and only four more takeaways (11-7), the Sharks managed to attempt more shots (57-48) and got that one extra shot on net (21-20) to go in overtime: Hannan got the puck to Havlat in front of the net for the beautiful feed to the slot to Tommy Wingels, whose shot was off before Kari Lehtonen could react.
Asked if he looks at the depleted forward ranks as an opportunity to break back into a scoring line role, Havlat provided one of many answers that seemed designed to get back in the good graces of his teammates he has let down: "I don't look at it that way. ...It's up to the coach who is one the ice. Every opportunity I get I'm trying to take it."
He had to be pressed to take any credit ("a little bit," he laughed uneasily) for the plays—"both goals it was all (Hannan)" calling him "the most important guy...making great plays on both those goals." He stayed focused on the team getting the two points until he was pressed to admit that it did feel good to score.
Wingels had a different take on his contributions. Rather than humility, he indicated it was about time: "I'm a big part of that group that scoring has kind of vanished for" and "it's something we're working on—we need to pick it up and we will." He also drew two penalties on Erik Cole in the third period. While San Jose did not score on any of its three power plays, the last two stopped the Dallas momentum.
The win allowed the Sharks to close within four games of the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division lead thanks to their home shutout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday. The lead over the Los Angeles Kings is now six games, but McLellan was not worried his team could be slotted into second place and thus have less at stake after the Winter Olympics:
There's...a lot of hockey left from both ends—from the upper end with Anaheim and the lower end with many teams behind us. ...St. Louis, Chicago and Colorado are right there with us, too, and it still matters—yes, we start (the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs) within our own division, but conference play matters.
All three teams have better point percentages than San Jose, and this is a team that needs to simply survive the next game before the Olympics start: Matt Nieto left the dressing room with a protective boot on after blocking a shot in the second period, and McLellan offered nothing more than that it was "probably not a great sign for the next game."
Whether they recall a forward from the AHL, skate seven on the blue line or someone comes back from injury, the Sharks must continue to earn two points (one goal scored in regulation in three of the last four wins). Any win right now is a solid game, and expecting their best is unrealistic until they get healthy.