Sharks skate past Stars 4-1


Sharks skate past Stars 4-1


DALLAS The Sharks scored twice on the power play and Antti Niemi was outstanding in net once again, as San Jose beat the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center on Saturday night, 4-1.

The much-maligned San Jose penalty-killing unit, which entered the game dead last in the NHL, killed off all three Dallas power plays in helping the Sharks take over the top spot in the Pacific Division for the first time this season. The Sharks, Kings and Coyotes each have 23 points, but San Jose has one more win and fewer games played than both Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Dallas entered the night with a scoreless streak of more than 147 minutes, and San Jose withstood an early push from the Stars before Brent Burns tallied on the power play at 4:58 of the first period. It was downhill from there for Dallas, which got exceedingly frustrated as the game progressed. Logan Couture scored a power play goal in the second period, Brad Winchester tallied later in the frame, and Jamie McGinn added one in the third as the Sharks took over after Burns goal.

Mike Ribeiro ended the streak at 194:11 with a goal at 6:22 of the third period, but that was all the Stars would get past Niemi, who finished with 30 saves.

Nemo played well again, especially early in the game when we were trying to find our way, said McLellan. They were coming hard and they had a really good forecheck."

The Stars had numerous chances to score early. On a power play with Douglas Murray in the box just after the Sharks had just taken the lead, Niemi made impressive saves on a Toby Petersen redirection and two attempts from Michael Ryder in the faceoff circle. Later, he stopped Loui Eriksson from the slot to maintain the 1-0 lead through the first period.

Dallas had another great scoring chance when Ryder broke in all alone during a four-on-four situation in the second period with the Sharks up, 3-0. Ryder fired a wrist shot from just above the hash marks, but Niemi flashed his glove and snagged the puck, freezing play.

Niemi, who made 40 saves in a 5-2 win over Detroit on Thursday, has won his last four starts. He's given up two goals or less in each of them.

As with most Sharks-Stars matchups, the animosity was evident. In the second period there were two fights just two seconds apart, when Krys Barch fought with Jim Vandermeer and Eric Nystrom dropped the gloves with McGinn. The Stars were likely attempting to change the momentum of the game, but it didnt do them any good as Winchesters goal came just 37 ticks after the second fight.

I think frustration was setting in for them. I think we did a pretty good job not reacting too much to it, said Vandermeer, playing in his first game since Nov. 3. Obviously, we have to defend ourselves out there. We came back strong and scored a goal right away.

Late in the third, with the game essentially decided, more emotions bubbled over. Ryane Clowe gave Stephane Robidas a whack with his stick after Robidas was pushing and shoving with Joe Thornton, and Clowe later had a big-time bout with Barch.

At the end of that tussle, Barch was seen pointing and yelling in the direction of Clowe and the Sharks bench. Clowe said later that he was yelling at Barch for starting a fight with him at the end of his shift, while Barch was just stepping onto the ice.

I dont know if Id chase someone down in that situation, said Clowe. Youre at the end of youre shift, but it happens. Im sure I might have done that before as well, but I dont usually turn down a challenge.

Clowe sensed an aggravated Dallas team that has now lost five straight games after starting 11-3-0.

We had a real great second period, controlled the play and they were getting frustrated, he said. Theyve got guys that even when you leave them alone, you dont know what theyre going to do. They like to continue to push the envelope, and we answered the bell well.

The Sharks took advantage of a Nicklas Grossman holding call to take the early lead. Thornton was positioned down low, and stopped a pass from Patrick Marleau with his skate. The captain quikcly threaded a pass between the legs of Trevor Daley to a changing Burns, who tapped his fourth goal of the season into an open net at 4:58 of the first period.

San Jose made it 2-0 early in the second. Couture pounced on a fortunate bounce off of Sheldon Sourays skate as the puck squirted to the side of the net, where he flipped it over the shoulder of Andrew Raycroft at 1:23.

The Sharks fourth line contributed its second goal in as many games when Winchester took advantage of a Dallas turnover in its own zone and wristed it past Raycroft at 4:52 of the second period. Winchester scored his first goal on Thursday against the Red Wings.

McGinns marker at 4:34 of the third period put the game away, making it a four-goal cushion. The only thing that had to be decided at that point was whether or not the Stars would end their scoring drought, which they did on Ribeiros wrist shot through traffic.

The Sharks would have liked to get their first shutout of the season for Niemi, regardless of the Stars futility, but it wasnt to be.

It would have been nice for Nemos sake. I dont really pay attention to what theyre doing, but Nemo played great and it would have been nice to get him the zero, said Thornton.

Still, the Sharks won for the 10th time in their last 13, and sixth time in their last seven road games.

It took us seven or eight minutes to kind of get in the game but once we did, we got our legs, said Thornton. And the night was over.

Odds and ends: Colin White and Justin Braun were the scratches for the Sharks. Dan Boyle broke his stick three times during the night. The Sharks visit Colorado on Sunday evening. San Jose has outscored the opposition 28-11 in the second period. There was a total of 100 penalty minutes in the game, 53 by Dallas. Thornton and Patrick Marleau had two assists each. Jason Demers was a game-high 2.

Sharks have tall task avoiding holiday hangover in Vegas


Sharks have tall task avoiding holiday hangover in Vegas

Once they entered the league, many joked that the Vegas Golden Knights would have the best home-ice advantage in the league.

Sure, the novelty of a new team would get fans excited, but it was the team’s presence on the Las Vegas Strip that would give the expansion team an edge. After all, they call it “Sin City” for a reason, and it’s not for the ride in.

Nobody could have expected them to be this good at home.

The Golden Knights are 8-1-0 at T-Mobile Arena, and have the league’s highest winning percentage at home. They’ve outscored opponents by 18 goals, and their 4.33 goals per home game is the third-best mark in the entire league.

The Sharks will thus face their toughest road test of the season on Friday night, in a game that they’re almost designed to lose. Early afternoon games mean there’s no morning skate, but an early afternoon game the day after Thanksgiving? In Las Vegas?

Blackjack players have better luck hitting on 20.

In fact, Vegas’ home slate is littered with early starts: 12 of their 41 home games occur before the traditional 7-or-7:30 p.m. slot. Some of that is undoubtedly due to travel, of course, as the Sharks will play on the first night of a back-to-back on Friday.

But the effect is nonetheless apparent: T-Mobile Arena has become a fortress.

The same can be said about any number of arenas in cities known for their nightlife, such as the Miami Heat’s home at American Airlines Arena, located less than 10 miles from South Beach. Vegas is another matter entirely.

It doesn’t help that the Golden Knights have, home ice advantage aside, played like a playoff team. Adjusting for score effects and venue, Vegas ranks 13th and ninth, respectively, in the two major puck possession metrics: corsi-for percentage (shot attempts) and fenwick-for percentage (unblocked shot attempts).

They’ve also had luck that gamblers on the strip would envy, thriving despite being down to fourth-string goaltender Maxime Lagace because of injuries to the goalies ahead of him. Vegas has played extremely well in front of him in spite of that, and have won three straight since getting shellacked in Edmonton 10 days ago.

In spite of almost every piece of available logic heading into the season, the Vegas Golden Knights are good. Almost every piece, of course, because their home-ice advantage is simultaneously the most logical thing in the world.

In Las Vegas, it usually doesn’t pay to bet against the house.

Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving


Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving

The San Jose Sharks woke up this Thanksgiving and found themselves in a playoff spot, albeit barely. 

They hold the second and final wild card spot by the thinnest of margins, edging out the Colorado Avalanche not on points, games played, regulation and overtime wins, but a single goal in the goal differential column. 

As early as it is, it’s a critical time to be in playoff position. Since the NHL expanded to 30 teams in 2000, 79 percent of teams holding playoff spots on Thanksgiving made the postseason. 

If the Sharks avoid becoming a member of the dreaded 21 percent, they’ll have two players to thank, more than anyone else, for their good fortune: Logan Couture and Martin Jones. 

Couture, along with Joonas Donskoi, seems to be the only Shark unaffected by a team-wide scoring bug. Even as he’s cooled off slightly, his 11 goals are still tied for 10th-most in the league. 

He’s held a positive share of puck possession on the ice, despite starting the fourth-lowest percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone among Sharks forwards that have played at least 50 minutes this season, according to Corsica Hockey

Couture also leads the team in power play scoring with three goals, and is one of only three San Jose players that’s scored multiple times on the man advantage. It’s hard to imagine the league’s fourth-worst power play (15.1 percent) getting worse, but it undoubtedly would be without the 28-year-old.

While Couture has stood out among a hapless offense, Jones has led one of the league’s best defensive units. The Sharks are among the best teams at limiting shots and scoring chances across all situations, but Jones has not let them down. 

Although his .922 even-strength save percentage is 27th among 51 goalies that have played at least 200 minutes, San Jose’s given him a razor thin margin of error. He had the fifth-lowest goal support of any goalie entering last night, as statistician Darin Stephens noted, and his play has been good enough to keep the Sharks in games in spite of that. 

Jones has also led the way for the league’s best penalty kill, posting a .940 save percentage in shorthanded situations. That’s the best mark among goalies that have faced at least 80 shots on the penalty kill, according to Stephens.

The sustainability of Jones’ penalty kill dominance and Couture’s 20.8 shooting percentage is an open question, but their importance to the team early in the season cannot be overstated. They’ve helped keep the Sharks afloat, and in a playoff spot with history on their side at the critical Thanksgiving mark. 

The Sharks need to not only let them have extra helpings during their holiday feast, but find a way to give them more help on the ice too.