The second losing streak of the early 2013-14 NHL season came to an end for the San Jose Sharks Thursday, Dec. 12. Could the return to success on special teams for the pictured players against the Minnesota Wild signal a third winning streak is on the way?
They will have to take their success on the road to make that happen. They have now flown to Tennessee to face the Nashville Predators Saturday, then head to play the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings before returning home next weekend.
In the Western Conference and especially atop the Pacific Division, every goal matters. The difference between winning and losing for San Jose lately has been poor execution on special teams. With it, this team can win the Stanley Cup; without it, winning one series is unlikely.
Thanks to a double-minor incorrectly called on Zenon Konopka, Minnesota had seven penalties for 16 minutes. San Jose converted on three of them thanks to 18 shots over the first six before reverting to the pass-around power play plaguing the team during the losing streak for the third-period chance.
Less than six minutes of the game was over when the Sharks converted their first chance: Joe Thornton found Dan Boyle, whose point-to-point feed was one-timed by Joe Pavelski through a screen by Patrick Marleau.
Shortly after failing to convert on 90 seconds of a two-man advantage, San Jose got another power play goal: Tommy Wingels sealed the boards to keep the puck down low, skated into Niklas Backstrom's glove-side circle and passed to Tomas Hertl in the slot for another one-timer goal.
The goal resulting from the bad call came in the first four minutes of the second period. Thornton fed Matt Irwin, whose shot came off to the open side just within reach for Pavelski to sweep it in from his knees. It was his third shot attempt in a flurry of six for the team in under a minute, with Martin Havlat being added to those to get one on net.
Through two periods, the Sharks held a 32-19 edge in shots. Their listless power play that actually allowed the only scoring chances during those two minutes did put the team on its heels. Their penalty kill responded a couple minutes later, surviving three failed clears because Logan Couture was without a stick.
However, before the mid-point the play-not-to-lose Sharks resurfaced. When they gave up a goal to Jonas Brodin (Justin Fontaine and Ryan Suter with the assists) that deflected off Brad Stuart, there were over seven minutes left.
From there, it was Antti Niemi who kept his team from squandering any more of the lead. Still, it was a strong team performance: San Jose had a 34-29 edge in faceoffs, were only behind 9-11 in takeaways and actually had fewer giveaways (8-9) that led to a 39-30 edge in shots and 68-60 in attempts. Minnesota naturally had more hits (23-15) but was actually out-performed in blocks anyway (13-16).
The win moved the Sharks back into second place in the Pacific Division and gives them the fourth-best point percentage in the Western Conference. The loss moves the Wild out of the final spot for the Stanley Cup playoffs by points as well as percentage.