Throughout the Sharks’ generally mediocre two-and-half months, several players have mentioned how coach Pete DeBoer has taken an even-keeled approach to his team. He hasn’t gotten too high during winning streaks or too low when they’re struggling.
Just Wednesday, moments after the Sharks had snapped a six-game losing streak, goalie Martin Jones remarked: “He’s a positive guy. Especially through tough times, I think it really helps staying positive.”
After the second period of the Sharks’ win in Toronto on Thursday, though, DeBoer apparently took a break from being so upbeat. After watching his club turn a 2-0 lead into a 3-2 hole against the rebuilding Leafs, the coach was irate.
“It wasn’t pleasant, that’s for sure,” Matt Nieto told reporters.
The deficit grew to 4-2 early in the third when Michael Grabner took advantage of some soft defensive zone play, but San Jose reeled off three consecutive goals, including Brent Burns’ overtime winner to secure a 5-4 victory.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Burns scores in OT, Sharks drop Leafs]
The second intermission jolted the club back to life.
“It was a wake up call,” said Nieto, whose goal in the third period tied the game at 4-4. “I thought we came out, and even though they got that one goal (early in the third), we fought back and didn’t let it phase us. Found a way to get points on the road, and that’s the more important thing.”
Speaking with Comcast SportsNet after the game, Burns said: “We definitely heard about the way we played the second 10 minutes of the first and then the second period. We don’t want to be doing that. But, it’s great to come back. Especially they get that early one in the third, and the boys fought back hard.”
San Jose has won the first two games of its five-game trip and leads the NHL with 12 wins on the road.
While no one can put their finger on why the Sharks have found so much road success but have struggled in their own building, DeBoer has at least some idea. Scoring first has been a problem as SAP Center, where the Sharks have dropped all nine games where they don’t get a 1-0 lead. They are 4-9-0 there overall.
On Thursday at Air Canada Centre they jumped all over the Maple Leafs early, getting the first two goals on a wobbly Garret Sparks, and improved to 13-1-0 when scoring the first goal. They are 12-5-1 on the road overall.
“On the road, I think we come out and we keep it simple, like we did in the first period tonight,” DeBoer told reporters.
When asked if his second period featured a “blue streak,” DeBoer admitted with a smirk that was “fair to say.”
“There’s no doubt we got away from our game plan a little bit,” he said. “We knew Toronto was going to push back in the second and they weren’t going to be happy with their first period. And, we didn’t handle it well. We turned it into the pond hockey game in the second period, and it almost cost us two points.”
The game was a wide-open affair featuring 75 shots on goal (44 from San Jose), not much defense and some shaky goaltending on both sides. Sparks didn’t look comfortable in surrendering the first two Sharks goals before he left with an injury, while Jones allowed a bad James van Riemsdyk marker in the final minute of the second that gave the Leafs their first lead.
But Burns made sure that the visitors came out on top, when his wrist shot banked in off of Toronto’s Peter Holland.
“It kind of rolled up on me so I pulled it a little bit,” Burns said. “Pav took his guy to the net and I think it went off his guy.”
The Sharks’ road trip will get progressively harder. They visit an Ottawa club on Friday that is fighting for position in the Atlantic Division, before games in Chicago and Los Angeles.
The home record won’t mean a thing in those matchups.
“Another good road win, and we’re just finding ways to get points,” Nieto said.