In their last game Saturday, March 9, the San Jose Sharks were criticized for not emptying the tank to close out a win over the Western Conference rival St. Louis Blues. On Sunday, they stormed the Colorado Avalanche right behind a blizzard, seeking both redemption and a season series sweep over another two-time Stanley Cup playoff foe.
The Sharks played like a team with something left in the tank, battling to stay with the younger, fresher Avalanche. They even came back after carrying a two-goal deficit into the final minute of the second period, only to be defeated in the final half-second of overtime.
Colorado is coming off the high of breaking the NHL record point streak to start a season by the Chicago Blackhawks Friday night. Coach Joe Sacco was without Milan Hejduk Sunday but had Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene who were unavailable the last time these teams met—one of only two San Jose wins in February.
The first period definitely belonged to the home team. Adam Burish took a penalty early in the first that proved costly a minute later when P.A. Parenteau fed a pass through Brad Stuart in front of the crease to Matt Duchene to grab the lead.
The Avalanche out-shot the Sharks 15-10 in that period. The tables were turned for shots in the second (16-9), but not for goals. Recently-signed forward O'Reilly easily beat Michal Handzus for the inside position and redirected an Aaron Palushaj centering feed past Antti Niemi for the two-goal lead. "We attacked with speed, and that's our game," O'Reilly said.
Niemi was in net again after being pulled with over 14 minutes to go in regulation Saturday. He had no chance on the first score, but this time appeared to give up too much of the near side. It would be his last mistake.
In the final minute of the period, San Jose finally broke through. Justin Braun took the puck from Ryane Clowe and shot it toward the net, where a Patrick Marleau deflection resulted in his 400th career NHL goal and cut the lead in half.
The Sharks were grinding out the third period when the top line did what it is paid to do and more on consecutive shifts. Joe Thornton is the highest-paid player and captain because he is usually among leaders in assists and takeaways. General manager Doug Wilson traded up to draft Logan Couture because he had the potential to be great on both ends of the ice.
In the final six minutes of the game, Couture cleared a puck from behind him with his foot right before it was stuffed into an open net. On their next shift, Thornton took the puck away along the boards and fed Couture at the top of the circle for the game-tying one-timer.
From there, the Sharks held on in large part thanks to great late saves from Niemi. As coach Todd McLellan pointed out, only a fluke bounce that fell right to Duchene's stick in the final second of overtime beat his guys:
We can look and analyze that a hundred times if we want. It hits (Joe Pavelski) in the chest, falls right on the guy's tape and he puts it in the net. ...To scramble back and fight back on the road down two (goals) is nice. The way it ends, with (less than a second left) and you don't get a chance at the shootout, that's a little bit disappointing.
The overtime loss keeps San Jose in the seventh spot in the Western Conference. Colorado has climbed to within four points of the final spot with a game in hand.
One way the Sharks were able to stay in the game was puck possession. The percentages in the circle have been declining since early February, but they won 59.5 percent of draws, buying them 15 possessions. They lost six of those to takeaways from the speedy Avalanche, but kept giveaways to three—the same number as their opponent.
Colorado was still able to attempt two more shots (68-66) and get four more on net (42-38). San Jose blocked two more shots (14-12—not high for two of the best shot-blocking teams in the NHL) but was out-hit 19-9. Matt Irwin took 13 shots and got eight of them to the net.
Thus, even with only one point the Sharks put forth a good effort and an acceptable response to hitting the road after a tough loss the night before. The three stars of the game did set themselves apart Sunday:
- Duchene scored two goals—the first and last—on five shots (six attempts), but also had two takeaways and was the only Colorado center having success in the circle (19 of 30 for 63.3 percent).
- Parenteau assisted on both goals, had four of five attempts on net and registered three takeaways.
- Couture showed leadership that made McLellan practically anoint him as the next team captain in the post-game press conference. His clear does not register on the stat sheet, but he did have another block, won his only draw and got five of his other seven shot attempts through besides the goal he scored to give the team a point in the Western Conference standings.