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San Jose Sharks start 2014 by dominating Edmonton Oilers

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The San Jose Sharks started 2014 much better than they ended 2013. The Edmonton Oilers did not find the Pacific Division rivals very hospitable Thursday, January 2.

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With such a dominant win, it is no surprise that all five pictured stars wore the home black sweaters. It was difficult to limit the list to five, with three goal scorers left out. The team in white looked like the worst team in the Western Conference as well as one having missed seven consecutive Stanley Cup playoffs.

With the win, San Jose improved to 15-1-3 at home in the 2013-14 NHL season and pulled just two games behind the cluster of the Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues as the best teams in the NHL. All are Western Conference teams, and the current second-place position in the Pacific Division is good enough for home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Colorado Avalanche are next to host the Sharks Saturday at noon PDT, and are just four points behind with a game in hand. The next team in the Pacific Division capable of ripping away home-ice advantage in the first round is the Los Angeles Kings, for whom a fourth straight loss Thursday leaves them two games behind.

San Jose's game did not start out looking dominant. For the first 4:14 of the game, Edmonton had lost all five faceoffs and attempted just two shots to seven faced, with a 5-1 deficit in those on goal. However, the guests were fed three early giveaways and were the first to draw a penalty.

That penalty kill gave up three shots in six attempts (the last shot coming three seconds after it officially ended), but Antti Niemi was up to the task. The Sharks responded with three shots in five of the next six attempts before things balanced.

Then there were the three-plus minutes in the middle of the first period. Edmonton took one penalty but spent most of San Jose's power play on the attack. The second penalty kill was not on the attack but limited the power play to one shot because of four blocks.

Once they were back at even strength, the Sharks got into a rhythm. The fourth consecutive shot in 16 seconds came after Joe Pavelski fed Brent Burns wide of an aggressive Devan Dubnyk for the easy goal, giving Joe Thornton a secondary assist.

Patrick Marleau stole the puck in the offensive zone 47 seconds later; two seconds after that he had spun and fired a shot past Dubnyk for the 2-0 lead. The Oilers survived the rest of the period and even another penalty in the second, but they could not hold back the goal-scoring machine that is Bracken Kearns.

He was 30 years old before he ever saw the NHL. Over the next two years, he managed just six games but did play in seven more during the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. Yet he had only been in one game during the 2013-14 NHL season and in all 14 games never had a goal.

At the age of 32 and eight months, Kearns scored his first. When he quickly fired in the puck he had gotten in the slot from Andrew Desjardins just over seven minutes into the middle frame, it was his third game in a row scoring. This time James Sheppard got the secondary assist.

Not to be outdone, 87 seconds later Logan Couture also scored for the third consecutive game after having gone 11 games without a goal. He was fed on the rush by John McCarthy for a 42-foot, wrist-shot goal that looked like he had never lost that sniper's precision as it bounced down hard off the roof of the cage.

The Oilers called their timeout. From that point, they out-shot the Sharks 16-13, but could only generate one goal: Jordan Eberle got the puck to Sam Gagner who found Nail Yakupov for the 26-foot wrist-shot 4:21 before the period ended. Matt Irwin got the puck to Thornton on the half-boards in the first six minutes of the third, allowing the feed to Pavelski for the one-timer blast from the right circle to end the scoring.

Aside from the scoreboard, San Jose dominated many and won all statistics: 38-18 in faceoffs yet one fewer giveaway (9-10) and seven more takeaways (12-5), a 64-47 edge in attempts and 36-24 edge in those on goal and yet a 24-10 edge in hits. Edmonton led 15-12 in blocked shots, but that is a lower percentage of attempts (23.4 vs. 25.5 percent) and ratio to shots allowed (about one per two-and-a-half shots vs. one per two).

Even when they were out-shot and matched in scores for the second half of the game, the Sharks were not letting up but playing safer hockey. They got good play from their elite and role-players as well as from forwards, the blue line and Niemi. This is the kind of play it will take to win Stanley Cup playoff series in the Western Conference.

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