No team has done a better job at making mediocre goalies look like NHL stars than the San Jose Sharks. Only one puck in 29 including the high-percentage shootout got past Jonas Gustavsson of the Detroit Red Wings in the contest between the Western Conference rivals Thursday, Feb. 28 at HP Pavilion.
The Sharks have to be happy the month is over. They had only one game in 12 with more than two goals and scored a total of 15—just 1.25 per game. Not surprisingly, they went 2-6-4 for a point percentage of .333.
San Jose had chances and probably earned more than one goal. But they were again out-shot 34-26, guilty on occasions of looking for a better shot rather than taking them while they have the chance. Coach Todd McLellan has made an issue of the changing nature of offenses as teams block more and more shots.
Players need to take shots when they are there and crash the net for the rebound rather than just try to shoot through traffic for the screened shot that was so key in the success of the 2010 and 2011 Stanley Cup champions (Chicago and Boston, respectively). After the game, McLellan expressed tempered frustration about missed opportunities, including Joe Thornton's pass being blocked on an odd-man rush.
The game was tightly played from the start. Detroit had 11 shots to the San Jose's nine in the first period thanks in part to a Douglas Murray interference penalty 1:25 into the game. Both Gustavsson and Antti Niemi kept their teams from facing deficits, but also received ample defensive support.
The game became even tighter in the second period. The Sharks seemed to have an edge, but it only translated into one more shot (7-6). Nevertheless, they had enough momentum to take over early in the third against a team that had played in another city the night before. It led to a Logan Couture one-timer goal off a Thornton feed (Murray had a secondary assist) 4:49 in.
San Jose could not handle Detroit's response. The visitors found another gear and needed just 92 seconds to answer on another score facilitated by Niklas Kronwall, who has 17 points—four fewer than the entire San Jose blue line. Patrick Eaves got credit for the goal on a deflection, and Jonathan Ericsson got the secondary assist.
Detroit kept the pressure on, but the game again tightened up late. It ended when young stud Damien Brunner became the only player to score in the shootout. It was important to get a point in this game, but failing to get two technically dropped them out of the Western Conference playoff picture.
Aside from failing to shoot the puck more, the Sharks played a stronger game. Their puck possession was superior, winning just four more draws than their opponents and giving the puck away eight more times. But by getting nine more takeaways, they still had five additional possessions in a battle of teams built around puck possession.
Despite having the puck more, they also delivered three more hits. Neither team is big in this aspect of the game, but both teams reached 20 and had among them some hard ones. San Jose had two more blocked shots than Detroit, but that actually left the opposition with a slightly higher ratio of blocks to chances.
Individually, some performances stuck out despite not bringing big results statistically. Patrick Marleau was the best skater for the Sharks Thursday, having five shots and nine attempts. But he did not score, and did not stick out in any other area of the stat sheet—one block, hit, giveaway, minor penalty and lost draw to go with two takeaways.
Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart each blocked five shots. Ryane Clowe showed great energy and even had a semi-breakaway. But statistically he also did not register a point on any of the three shots, delivered three hits and a blocked shot but also had two giveaways.
By contrast, the three stars of the game were all able to make an impression on both the viewer and stat sheet:
- Gustavsson turned away 25 of 26 (.962 save percentage) officially, but also handled all three Sharks he faced in the shootout.
- Niemi had the better save percentage (.971) during the game, but let one get through in the shootout and took another loss in an excellent performance.
- Kronwall had two other shots and a giveaway, but led his team to its only score and on the other end in blocking shots with four.