Rewind: Power play clicks early in Sharks' third straight road win

Rewind: Power play clicks early in Sharks' third straight road win

MONTREAL – Sharks defenseman David Schlemko had 52 shots on goal headed into a game against the Canadiens on Friday at Bell Centre. Somehow, though, he was still looking for his first goal.

It finally came in the first period on the power play on shot number 53, when he beat Carey Price with a wrist shot from the top of the circle.

"Definitely nice to see one go in," Schlemko said. "It was getting pretty frustrating."

Timo Meier was making his NHL debut. It took him precisely one shot to get his first goal, when he found the rebound of a Schlemko blast at 13:18 of the first period, upping the Sharks’ lead to 3-0 in an eventual 4-2 win.

“Must be nice scoring your first shot, your first game,” Schlemko quipped.

The Sharks jumped all over Montreal early, thanks to goals by the two aforementioned players sandwiched around a Patrick Marleau power play marker. Melker Karlsson added another in the second period, chasing Price from a game for the first time in more than two years, and San Jose handed the first place Canadiens just their second regulation loss of the season at home (14-2-2).

After needing a shootout to secure wins in Toronto and Ottawa on the first two games of their road trip, and not seeming all that pleased with their overall performance in either game, the Sharks were much more content with how they played against the Canadiens – even if they only did get five shots on backup Al Montoya over the final 33 minutes of play.

“We really didn’t like our last two games, to be honest,” said Joe Thornton, who beautifully set up Marleau for his goal. “We felt we had better. I think tonight we showed in the first two periods that that’s how we need to play. It’s an encouraging game tonight for us.”

Pete DeBoer said: “That was much more of a solid effort. … I didn’t think we gave them much room in the first two periods, and capitalized on our chances.”

Getting a pair of power play goals before the midway point of the first period was key, especially considering the Sharks were just 1-for-25 on the power play in their last seven road games. That includes an 0-for-7 in Ottawa on Wednesday.

After an early power play still looked disjointed, the second unit got one from Schlemko at 6:50 of the opening frame on their second chance, while Marleau’s was shortly after that at the nine-minute mark.

“If you can get that lead early, especially on the power play where it kind of makes that team not want to take penalties…it gives us some confidence to get going,” Joe Pavelski said.

Meier’s goal, though, was the official game-winner. The 20-year-old, who is the Sharks’ best prospect since maybe Logan Couture, looked comfortable in his surroundings, and you can bet he’ll still be in the lineup on Sunday in Chicago, too.

As for scoring in what is typically known as the arena with the best atmosphere in the NHL, Meier said: “In that building, scoring the first goal on the first shot, it’s hard to describe in words. I’m happy, but at the same time, I know I can do much more.”

“What an awesome start,” Pavelski said. “It’s fun to see him score. He was really good. You saw he wanted to make a difference with the puck, he was strong on it, made some plays. It’s not an easy situation coming here, but it’s exciting. He was definitely ready for the game. You could tell.”

Despite trailing 4-0 entering the third period, the Canadiens made a push. The momentum seemed to change after Shea Weber slammed Pavelski to the ice at 3:13 of the third, earning him an interference minor, but seemingly waking up his teammates, too.

Bryan Flynn made it 4-1 at 10:28, and Jeff Petry brought the Habs back to within striking distance about three minutes later. The Sharks were icing the puck and scrambling in their own end for the majority of the final 10 minutes.

But, no one seemed all that distraught in the visiting dressing room with how that all unfolded. After all, the Sharks were playing their third road game in four nights, while Montreal had been at home and off since Monday.

“That’s part of the momentum throughout a game,” Pavelski said. “You’d like to be down [in the offensive zone] all night. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Guys handled the situation well, though.”

Thornton said: “You knew they were going to push, so they made a push. We’ll leave here with two points.”

How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific

About a month ago, the Sharks appeared locked into the Pacific Division's second, third, fourth, or fifth spot. At the end of trade deadline day, they were 12 points back of the division-leading Vegas Golden Knights, and only two points up on the fifth place Calgary Flames.

24 days later, thanks to an 8-2-0 record over the last 10 games (second-best in the NHL), San Jose's still in second place. Now though, those margins are eight points and 11 points, respectively. 

The latter's pretty much locked the Sharks into a playoff spot, while the former's created a path for a late run at the Pacific Division crown. Beginning Thursday night, they will play the Golden Knights twice over both team's final nine games. 

What does the path look like to the Sharks' first division title since 2011? To start, they'll have to beat the Golden Knights twice in regulation to even have a shot. 

That is the foundation of any run at the Pacific's top spot. If the Sharks win both remaining games in regulation, they'll trail the Golden Knights by four points, leaving aside results against other teams for now.

They have to win in regulation, however. A win in overtime or the shootout on Thursday would only cut the gap to seven, and a subsequent win in regulation would leave it at five. Two losses, in any situation, would create a gap of 10-12 points, which would be nearly impossible to overcome this late in the season. 

One point doesn't seem like a lot, but this late in the season, it makes a world of difference. A five-point gap means they'll need to earn six more than the Golden Knights in those other seven games, while a four-point gap means they'll need to earn five in order to pass them. 

The simplest way to five extra points, is for the Sharks to have a record that's two wins and an overtime loss better (2-0-1) than the Golden Knights in the seven games where they don't play each other. That's impossible if Vegas earns at least 10 points in those seven games, so a 5-2-0 or 4-1-2 record would ensure a division banner raising in Sin City.

Taken all together, then, the Golden Knights' 'magic number' is 10 points. Even if the Sharks win on Thursday, their path to a Pacific title remains difficult, if not improbable. 

If a season with an expansion team leading their division has taught us anything, though -- it's that improbable is not impossible.  

The anatomy of Jannik Hansen's recently-broken scoring drought after nearly one year


The anatomy of Jannik Hansen's recently-broken scoring drought after nearly one year

Jannik Hansen's game-winning goal against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday marked the first time he scored in 355 days. 

Hansen last scored on Mar. 30, 2017 against the Edmonton Oilers, his second goal with the Sharks following an in-season trade. His scoring drought, in all, lasted 44 regular season games, 50 if you include the postseason. 

How exactly does a goal-scoring drought last nearly a year? The right (wrong?) circumstances all need to come together, and that was certainly the case for Hansen for much of the last year.

For one, the Danish forward was in and out of the lineup. San Jose played 83 regular season and postseason games between Hansen's second and third goals, and he did not play in 33 of those games. Plenty of players have had rough 50-game stretches, and that's often without not playing for weeks at a time, as Hansen has done a couple of times this season. 

When Hansen did draw into the lineup this year, however, he wasn't generating offense at the same rate he had in the past. This season, Hansen's five-on-five shot rate (6.19 shots per 60 minutes), shot attempt rate (10.53 individual corsi per 60), and unblocked shot attempt rate (8.95 individual fenwick per 60) were all down from his career averages, according to Corsica Hockey. 

That decline is natural, considering Hansen turned 32 just six days ago. Those rates were not down enough, however, to expect him to fail to score in his first 39 appearances this season. Naturally, a long run of bad luck played a big role in Hansen's dry spell.

Hansen went 0-for-66 in shots over the 50 consecutive regular season and playoff games in which he did not score. He's a career 11-percent shooter, and had he shot at his career average, he would have scored seven goals during that time. That feels about right for a bottom-six forward. 

In many ways, all of these factors fed into one another. Hansen wasn't generating shots or scoring, then was scratched, then couldn't find the back of the net when he returned and was scratched again. All the while, fellow fourth-liners Marcus Sorensen (26.7 percent shooting percentage this season), Joel Ward (14.3 percent) and Barclay Goodrow (13.2 percent) were converting on their chances, forcing Peter DeBoer's hand. 

His possession play has been solid all season (50.74 percent corsi-for, per Natural Stat Trick), but the offense hasn't followed. When it does, as was the case Tuesday night, he can be an effective fourth-line forward, and the goal on Tuesday bought him more time to prove it.