The San Jose Sharks have out-played more than one team they lost to in the last month of 2013. The skate was on the other foot when the former Pacific Division rival Dallas Stars were the better team but lost because they had fewer of the pictured standout players Saturday, Dec. 21.
Todd McLellan rejected the notion the game was stolen: "You're down two and you come back, it's not necessarily stealing," adding that from this point on in the 2013-14 NHL season "a near-perfect game may not exist." However, it is hard to deny they were lucky to win.
The Sharks were getting beat in the circle (26-33) but still had more giveaways (12-8) and only one more takeaway (15-14). The Stars took those extra 10 possessions and attempted 10 more shots (71-61), yet still managed to block one more (13-12).
The only impressive edge San Jose had was hits (27-13), and they still managed to make just two trips to the penalty box in a chippy game reminiscent of the days both teams were in the Pacific Division. However, staying out of the box was of no help since no power play goals were scored and each team scored once within 79 seconds of the end of a Dallas penalty kill.
The first was in the opening five minutes: Ray Whitney stole the puck in the neutral zone and ended up scoring a backhand goal, with Shawn Horcoff getting the only assist.
It was just the second shot of the game for the Stars, but turned out to be the beginning of a period of over 34 minutes during which they out-shot the Sharks 30-14. This led to another goal one second earlier into the second period as their first: Antoine Roussel deflected an Alex Goligoski shot, giving Alex Chiasson a secondary assist.
San Jose's fourth line was on the ice for both goals. The second came after Dallas got away with holding until the puck was reacquired in the defensive zone, but an early whistle shortly afterward prevented another score when the puck trickled through Alex Stalock.
There was a significant breakthrough in the second period, however. Not only did the Sharks score, but a snake-bitten shooter got credit while the fourth line on the ice.
Hits by Mike Brown and Andrew Desjardins helped keep the puck in the offensive zone, and the second created a secondary assist: Tyler Kennedy got hold of the puck and faked the shot before passing back to a pinching Jason Demers in the slot for the one-timer goal.
It was his first goal after 12 assists, and only Dallas blue-liner Sergei Gonchar—hurt during the second period—and Ryan Suter have as many assists without a goal in the 2013-14 NHL season. He deflected credit but showed relief:
TK made an unbelievable play. He really sold the shot and I just tried to shoot as hard as I could. It went in, so it's great to get that one off the back and hopefully they'll come a little bit more now.
Demers has appeared to have that first goal a couple times this year, only to see a teammate get credit after video review. His response when that was brought up was, "Yeah, no phantom tip!"
More importantly for the Sharks, it turned around a trend of poor finishes during the 2013-14 NHL season—a subject discussed with McLellan, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, with their answers given respectively:
Second and third (periods) have not been friendly to us over the last little bit. So to be down two and come back is a nice reward.
We knew we had to play a good third (period). We haven't been playing particularly well at the end of late. These two points were huge for us tonight.
We haven't won many thirds in a long stretch (and) kind of talked about being ready (and) get that first shot to the net.
Thornton talked about wanting to get 20 shots on goal in the third period, and San Jose was on a 9-2 stretch over a six minutes when his assist early in the third changed strategy. He admitted he was just trying to keep the puck in after a shot by Marc-Edouard Vlasic, but it led to a 22-foot backhand goal for Pavelski.
After that, both teams played for a point in the standings. Each managed just two takeaways over the 15:36 remaining in regulation, with the Sharks also having two giveaways. No one scored in a much more active overtime, and Thornton was the only player to score in five rounds of a shootout.
Alex Stalock was incredible in the shootout and was an even more popular post-game subject than the team's strong finish. McLellan noted that he got better as the game went on and that it was good he faced a lot of shots—points the young goalie also referenced:
Obviously it wasn't the start I wanted to get off to. (I) just stuck with it and gave our team a chance to win and obviously we came back and got two points so that's huge. ...There were a few maybe that I didn't see until late and got lucky a few times (that they) ended up hitting me. Then again, it's focusing on being in the right spot.
As for the pourous defense that allowed so many shots, Pavelski took three seconds to answer that it was a group effort and another three before admitting he would need to see the film. He concluded, "There were a few mistakes, where they came in and they were walking right down into the slot. They had a few off faceoffs. They shot the puck and worked hard."
The bad news is they looked like they were working harder for most of the game. The good news is that the Sharks are the team coming away with two points, allowing them to stay in front of the Vancouver Canucks for third place in the Pacific Division.
Next up is the first visit of the 2013-14 NHL season for the fast, young Colorado Avalanche Monday, Dec. 23.