In the most basic sense, an NHL team can only earn two points per game. The San Jose Sharks are the only team to do that in every game this year, a streak that extended to seven games with a shootout victory over the Edmonton Oilers Thursday, January 31.
It was the second consecutive shootout win, meaning San Jose did not earn a truly perfect record since the wins will not count toward the tiebreak. But then they allowed goals and did not score on every shot...
Coaches know that no game is perfect. The smart ones focus successful teams on what they are not doing well even when they are winning.
The Sharks need some secondary scoring.
Scott Gomez played well enough to move up to the second line for the start of this game. That put him in position to cause the turnover that led to Logan Couture breaking the scoreless tie in the second. He and Patrick Marleau were on a line with Joe Pavelski when he put home another turnover on the very next shift.
But can the third and fourth lines produce that one extra goal? Martin Havlat moved down to the third line and had a bunch of scoring chances. But the lack of secondary scoring almost lost each of the last two games for the Sharks because the first line has gone from superhuman to merely great.
How much of a priority should a regular season issue that did not quite cause failure be? Higher than one might think: Stanley Cup playoffs are lost by regular season flaws that were overlooked by winning teams—including the Sharks in 2009—and teams have less than 60 percent as much time to make the corrections thanks to the NHL lockout.
The checking lines are contributing. As a unit, they have been instrumental in killing 16 consecutive penalties. They have also looked good individually.
James Sheppard also looked good on the fourth line as a replacement in the lineup for T.J. Galiardi, who was a healthy scratch from the third line. Line mate Andrew Desjardins played well enough to earn extra ice time. Michal Handzus had the shootout winner. Tommy Wingels was active on both ends.
Still, the problem remains because no one from either line has buried a shot in seven games. And it is almost the only problem. The power play has failed in nine straight chances, but three of them were at the end of a 4-1 win.
After going plus-11 on draws Thursday night, the Sharks have held an edge in that department in all seven games. Despite the extra possessions, they are right with their opponents in hits and close in turnovers. Despite more shots on goal and attempts than their opponents more often than not, they are a dead heat in blocked shots.
That is why no team has given up fewer goals, even though many teams have played fewer games. The Sharks have also scored more goals than any team but the Tampa Bay Lightning. While five of the seven games have been at home, they have had to play two rookies on a blue line to replace its best players.
Those players are coming back. The Sharks broadcast team for CSN California declared that Demers would be on the ice as part of a seven-man blue line, but that did not happen. Nick Petrecki was scratched when Dan Boyle returned. They also reported that Brent Burns is skating with the team, and said he remarked that when he shaves his beard he is close.
That will leave San Jose with an interesting dilemma: Matt Irwin, Douglas Murray, Justin Braun or Jason Demers will have to sit—two of them if the team does not dress seven defensemen. Based on the play of the fourth line compared to the blue line, replacing a forward makes sense.
Then again, goalie performances like the Sharks have gotten since Examiner.com brought up the three-goal magic number after the home opener will cover a lot of mistakes. In the four games that followed, the guests have yet to reach that number and have combined for just five goals—all in the three games against starter Antti Niemi.
Niemi turned away several great scoring chances and kept the Sharks in the lead as the young Oilers came in with more energy despite a shootout win the previous night. The Sharks out-played them in the third, but Edmonton tied the score anyway. At one point it looked as though Ryane Clowe had retaken the lead, but he was called for interference before getting the puck.
Examiner.com's "three" stars of the game:
- Devan Dubnyk was the only reason Edmonton walked out with a point. He stopped 36 shots (.947 save pct.) including some highlight reel saves. It may be unorthodox to give the top star to a losing player, but it makes no sense to give it to the goalie he actually outplayed, either.
- Niemi was outstanding, turning away 26 shots (.929) and having no chance on either that went by him. He may have had as many highlight reel saves as Dubnyk in fewer shots, but still had to make fewer total stops.
- Pavelski is the only Shark with a point in every game after getting the second goal on a turnover. He had two hits, two giveaways but a takeaway and a block while winning seven of nine draws.
- Couture deserves mention for being the only player on the ice for both goals and none scored. His goal broke a scoreless tie and he added one hit, one block and four faceoff wins but also had four losses and two giveaways.