Niemi, Sharks blank Flyers at the Tank 1-0


Niemi, Sharks blank Flyers at the Tank 1-0


SAN JOSE It seemed like a dangerous combination.

At the heart of the Sharks recent struggles was the fact that the team simply couldnt keep the puck out of its own net. Returning home from a miserable road trip in which it allowed almost four goals-per-game, San Jose hosted the highest scoring team in the National Hockey League in the Philadelphia Flyers.

The result? A 1-0 shutout victory for Niemi and the Sharks in the first of a four-game homestand.

Go figure.

It was a perfect defensive game against the best offensive team in the league, Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. We set the bar pretty high tonight. If we can do it against them, we can do it against any team.

Ryane Clowe broke a 12-game scoreless streak when his wrist shot sailed past Ilya Bryzgalov at 1:12 of the first period on a two-on-two rush with Joe Thornton. It held up as the only goal.

Clowe broke it down.

When I first got it I was thinking about probably throwing it back to Jumbo going to the net, because I thought the defenseman was going to step up, but Jumbo did a good job because he took a couple guys with him. That gave me an opportunity to shoot, and it was nice to see it go in, Clowe said of his 11th goal.

Thornton said: It just shows you never know which shift is going to be the most important of the night.

The win was an important one for San Jose, 1-5-1 in its previous seven games, on a number of fronts. For one, the team would like to quickly move past its miserable nine-game trip in which is finished with just two wins (2-6-1).

Secondly, it allowed the Sharks to stay within striking distance of the Phoenix Coyotes, who remain in first place in the Pacific Division after beating Vancouver earlier in the night. The Sharks trail the Coyotes by two points, and have a game in hand.

Finally, Niemi, who had been pulled in the first period in two of his last three starts, was steady if not outstanding between the pipes making 26 saves and securing his fifth shutout of the season against the team he hadnt seen since winning the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010.

This was a huge game, the first game home after a not-that-good road trip, said Niemi, who finished with 26 saves.

He was confident back there making huge saves, playing the way we know he can play. He helped us out, Vlasic said.

The game was feisty and had good action in the first period before slowing down a bit in the second.

The Sharks kept up the pressure in the minutes immediately following Clowes goal, and nearly made it 2-0 when Justin Brauns point shot deflected off of the post. Later in the period, Dan Boyle had all day to line up a wrist shot in the circle, but Bryzgalov stopped it with about six minutes left.

It got physical and nasty at the end of the first, too. Tommy Wingels flattened Danny Briere in the corner in the final minute with a jarring check, while Wayne Simmonds and Vlasic tangled in front of Niemi after the puck was frozen with 3.4 seconds to go. Simmonds and Brad Winchester lined up next to one another on the ensuing faceoff, resulting in a Winchester roughing penalty at the 20-minute mark.

The Sharks killed off that Flyers power play, as well as another later in the period, but Philadelphia had the territorial advantage for most of the frame. Although they were pinned in their end for lengthy stretches, the Sharks did a good job at keeping Philadelphia to the outside and protecting the front of the net.

I guess youd always want to always want to spend less time in your zone while defending well. We did have to spend some time there, said Matt Shaw, filling in for Todd McLellan, who is still suffering from a concussion.

They are probably one of the better teams in the league on offensive zone cycles, net plays, and their strength and skill in and around the net. You dont want to have to play that much time in your zone, but we did our good job in dealing with it, and certainly the goalie was the number one star in there.

Niemi stopped all 17 shots thrown his way through the first 40 minutes.

San Jose had plenty of chances to increase its lead in the third, but the embattled Bryzgalov kept Philadelphia in the game. He stopped Thornton on a two-on-one with a good poke-check, made a pad save on newcomer TJ Galiardi, and then smothered a Winchester wrist shot on a two-on-one.

I know earlier in the year he struggled a bit, but we wanted to try and get on him early and see if he was shaky, but he made some good saves. He was good tonight, Clowe said of Bryzgalov.

Theres a chance that Vlasic, meanwhile, could be hearing from the league. The defenseman drilled Briere from behind, headfirst into the boards, with five minutes left in the third. Briere was slow to get up, but returned before the game was through.

Logan Couture, the Sharks' leading goal scorer with 27, missed his first game of the season still suffering the effects of a lower body injury incurred on Sunday in Minnesota.

Odds and ends: There were just six penalty minutes in the game ... The Sharks have won nine straight against Philadelphia, dating back to 2004. TJ Galiardi and Daniel Winnik were making their Sharks debuts after they were acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Jamie McGinn on Monday. The Sharks are still without Dominic Moore (lower body) and Douglas Murray (fractured Adams apple). San Jose won 39 of 63 faceoffs.

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are


Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

The difference between a 2-3-0 start and a 1-4-0 start is bigger than two standings points.

The former is far from ideal, but if you squint hard enough, there's enough wiggle room to improve. There's still time with the latter, too, but the margin for error is much thinner moving forward.

The Sharks experienced that difference firsthand after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It's not an ideal record, but they’ve managed to salvage a poor start. 

There are still some flaws, to be sure. The power play isn't just the Kevin Labanc show after the top unit scored all three power play goals Tuesday, but is still carrying a disproportionate offensive load. The penalty kill’s scoreless streak came to an end, but they were called into action six times.

Despite all that, Tuesday's win was San Jose’s best effort this season. Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton all had multi-point games for the first time this year. Martin Jones had another strong game, and appears to have shaken off his slow start.

In short, San Jose’s game is headed in the right direction. It needs to be, with a five-game road trip beginning on Friday. 

Now comes the hard part.

It's on the road where we’ll get our best sense of who this team really is. Peter DeBoer won’t have the benefit of last change, and won't be able to dictate matchups. 

Under these circumstances, we’ll begin to really see if Joakim Ryan is ready for a top-four role, whether Kevin Labanc is a viable first-line winger, and how the rest of the young reinforcements stack up. They will have less time off, too, as all but one game occurs after one day (or less) of rest and travel. That missed practice time isn't ideal for any team, let alone one still trying to work out the kinks.

Fortunately, the competition is forgiving, at least on paper. Other than the Devils, none of the Sharks’ four other road trip opponents have winning records as of this writing. The topsy turvy nature of the standings, though, show how little “on paper” means this early in the season.

We’ll know a lot more about who these San Jose Sharks are by the time their road trip ends. Their record still won't tell the whole story, but by then, they'll have played about an eighth of the season. 

And by then, we’ll have a much better idea of how good this team really is.

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens


Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens


SAN JOSE — Logan Couture credited a teammate for scoring his second goal. He took credit for the first one.

Couture scored a pair of goals and the San Jose Sharks extended their dominance of the Montreal Canadiens with a 5-2 victory on Tuesday night.

Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl also scored for the Sharks, who have won the past 11 home games against the Canadiens, a streak that dates to Nov. 23, 1999.

On a power play late in the third period, rookie Tim Heed took a shot off a face-off that bounced free in front of the net. Pavelski couldn't get his stick on it but managed to kick it across the net for Couture, who found a huge opening.

"That was pretty special," Couture said. "I don't know if he knew I was there but he kept his balance and kicked it over."

Couture opened the scoring 3:30 into the first period, grabbing a rebound off the back board, skating across the front of the net to get Price to commit and then firing into an open net.

Jonathan Drouin and Shea Weber scored for the Canadiens, who are winless since an opening night victory at the Buffalo Sabres.

"It's a very poor start from our team, from myself, from a lot of individuals," Canadiens' Max Pacioretty said. "It's a good time to look in the mirror and see what we're made of because a lot of people are probably doubting this team right now."

Martin Jones stopped 28 of 30 shots for the Sharks, who finish their season-opening homestand with a 2-3 record.

"The biggest thing is finding that energy for the whole game," Jones said. "We started OK and then we got better as the night went on."

Carey Price, who stopped 31 of 35 shots, fell to 2-7-1 in 10 games against the Sharks.

The Canadiens responded 36 seconds later when Drouin picked up a pass from Artturi Lehkonen close in and fired it over Jones' left shoulder and into the net.

Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead for good when he redirected Kevin Labanc's shot just under a minute into the second period. The shot hit Weber's left shin pad and bounced into the net.

"There were a lot of good things out there," Pavelski said. "We didn't have the homestand we wanted but we can leave on a positive note to take on the road."

Hertl padded the lead midway through the second on a power play. Standing on the right side of the net, he was trying to control a pass from Joe Thornton but the puck fluttered off his stick and got behind Price.

"I'll take it any way I can get it," Hertl said. "There are times I've had great shots that just bounced off the post."

Weber's power-play goal two minutes later kicked off Jones' skates for the score.

The Sharks needed five seconds to score on a power play late in the second period. Tim Heed shot on goal and it bounced off Pavelski's skate. Couture picked it up and found a huge opening.

NOTES: After allowing three power play goals over their first five penalty kills, the Sharks killed off 14 straight until Weber scored in the second period. ... Couture recorded his 24th career multi-goal game. ... Sharks D Tim Heed recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Couture's power-play goal. ... Brendan Gallagher needs one assist for 100 with the Canadiens.


Canadiens: plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday in their second back-to-back of the season.

Sharks: open a five-game road trip on the east coast with a game at the New Jersey Devils on Friday.