The San Jose Sharks comeback against the Edmonton Oilers marked just the fifth win in 15 road games in the 2013 NHL season. It was the second against this once and future division rival, and the second of the three-win season sweep to come via the shootout.
It should not have come to that. The Sharks gave up multiple odd-man rushes early in the game, with at least two players making mistakes on all three goals. The once-sound defense has now given up three or more goals in eight straight games.
Edmonton scored first on a power play that actually should not have been. (Replays showed that Dan Boyle did not actually make contact on his tripping penalty, but it looked like he did at regular speed.) Sam Gagner had all kinds of time on the point, crept in and fired through a crowd.
Over three minutes later, the new line suggested weeks ago in this column made noise: Martin Havlat deftly avoided a defender to feed Logan Couture, whose shot on net Joe Pavelski was poised to clean up before it was kicked in by an Edmonton defender. Go to the net in the NHL and you get rewarded.
Havlat made a different kind of noise in the second period, arguing an early interference call until he was hit with two more minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct and 10 for misconduct. Having Havlat that passionate is a great sign, but the result could have been devastating if the Sharks had not managed to kill off both penalties.
What was devastating was the power play that followed. The Sharks returned to a pass-first team, wasting shooting chances. The Oilers then were able to clear the puck and defend re-entry into their zone, and the closest thing they gave up to a shot on goal was Couture's attempt that rang off the cage.
Edmonton got the puck out of the zone to kill the penalty just as Nick Schultz came out of the box. He joined his two teammates on the odd-man rush against San Jose's defensive pair, flung the pass into the crease and Shawn Horcoff stuffed it into the back side of the net.
Even with the Sharks out-shooting the Oilers, 17-13, they did not have momentum coming into the third. Just over four minutes in, Matt Irwin and Dan Boyle failed to come out from behind the net with the puck, allowing Ryan Jones to slip a wrap-around goal past Antti Niemi. While he should be able to trust that two of his defenders can out-battle one opponent for the puck, he needs to be more prepared for that attempt.
That goal seemed to awaken San Jose. A push drew a penalty about two minutes later, and an attack around the net led to Dan Boyle dishing the puck back to Couture for the one-timer goal just 38 seconds into the power play.
A little over two minutes later, another line reaped the benefits of strong play: Scott Gomez won a battle along the boards, T.J. Galiardi took possession of the puck and dished to Tommy Wingels, whose wrist shot tied the game.
The Sharks had a tough time closing out the period and overtime without giving up a goal. They gave up the first goal in the shootout, but Couture ripped home an answer immediately and Boyle followed with his beautiful double-move forehand winner.
San Jose earned two points in the comeback win, clinging to the final Stanley Cup playoff position in the Western Conference (seventh in point percentage, however). Edmonton hangs on to the 11th spot with the point they earned.
The Sharks got the scoring they need from the checking lines and power play. But a team that claims a sound defensive identity cannot have so many breakdowns. Edmonton is capable, but their youth showed when they did not close out this game as Western Conference playoff teams will.
The Oilers recap quotes Jones as feeling they were the better team:
That's a game that not only did we need the two points, but I thought we deserved it. It's one of those things in hockey. It doesn't matter how well you play, sometimes you don't come away with the win.
The Sharks held the possession edge by winning seven more draws and creating five more takeaways with only two more giveaways. They were only out-hit 25-21 while attempting six more shots (64-58), getting seven more on net (34-27) and still managing to block two more (17-15).
There were many stars for both sides on this night. Sometimes it is easy to see them because they show up in the scoring. But plays like Havlat's diving clear in the third period to stop a quality scoring chance do not appear on NHL stat sheets.
The top three stars made the little plays and scored:
- Couture had a few dynamite scoring chances and scored two goals—getting the Jeremy Roenick hat trick (two goals plus the shootout). He got six of his nine shot attempts on net, had a giveaway but two takeaways and two blocked shots while winning three of six draws.
- Horcoff showed why he is the captain by getting the go-ahead goal. One other of his three shot attempts was on net, he had a hit, giveaway, takeaway and was the only Edmonton player with more than one draw to win more than he lost (13 of 25).
- Nick Schultz does not have stats that jump out—assist, one shot in three attempts, two hits and a blocked shot with a giveaway—but was involved in both his team's even-strength goals and none were scored against the Oilers while he was on the ice.