Eleven games in a row over a Western Conference rival is a big deal. Two of them might have been in the preseason, but four were in the postseason. Seven of them came before Vancouver joined the Pacific Division, but the last two have given San Jose a one-game lead and three division wins.
Once again, the Sharks scored at least four goals and won by at least three. They have now outscored their three opponents by a combined score of 21-5 over four games, and the first 20 were against top-tier NHL goalies Roberto Luongo, Mike Smith and Henrik Lundqvist.
More important than how much they are scoring and against whom is that the offense is well-distributed. It was the first time in San Jose's history that three game-winners in a row came from players scoring their first NHL goals (Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto and Matt Pelech). A blue line near the bottom of the league offensively the last two years has five goals and eight assists in four games. Dan Boyle was the only real threat last year and is fifth on the unit in scoring with just one goal.
It is not just offensively that this team is getting balanced production during the 2013-14 NHL season. There are five Sharks with at least six hits, nine with at least four blocks, 12 with multiple takeaways and five that have won more than half their faceoffs so far.
In this game, they had a substantial edge in the circle (40-27—all six participants won at least half their faceoffs) yet had more takeaways (7-5) and fewer giveaways (3-6). Those 18 extra possessions resulted in the Canucks having four more hits (22-18) but two more penalties (6-2 in minutes). The Sharks attempted 16 more shots but had just three more on goal (29-26) and just two more blocked (15-13).
They got on board first 12:16 into the game when Joe Thornton passed the puck to Brent Burns entering the zone, who started to wind up for a shot until he heard Marc-Edouard Vlasic calling for the puck. The motion to shoot froze everyone, and the cross-ice feed to the pinching defenseman was one-timed past Luongo.
The second goal came late in the second with the fourth line on the ice. James Sheppard hustled to the puck behind the goal and fed Pelech, who was able to reach it amongst a throng of Canucks in front of the net for another one-timer.
Matt Santorelli was able to deflect a Ryan Stanton shot past Antti Niemi just after mid-point of the game to make it close again, but it took the Sharks less than 100 seconds to answer: Tyler Kennedy retrieved a Logan Couture dump-in behind the goal line and found Patrick Marleau in the slot for a third one-timer. Brent Burns added an early empty-netter (2:19 left in the game) to give San Jose its third 4-1 win this season, padding the assist totals of Thornton and Logan Couture.
In another exceptional team effort, Examiner's stars of the game are rather subjective:
- Burns made the play that led to the first goal, put the game away with the empty-netter and had seven shot attempts, four on goal, two hits and succeeded in one of his two draws.
- Vlasic got the first goal among his six shot attempts and added one hit, block and takeaway.
- Couture led San Jose forwards with 20:56 ice time, had two assists on four shots and a takeaway while winning 12 of 18 faceoffs.