COLUMBUS – The Sharks had numerous chances to build upon an early lead and break their game with the Blue Jackets wide open on Saturday night.
Leading 2-0 after the first period, San Jose maintained pressure in the middle frame and totaled 18 shots on goal. But Sergei Bobrovsky denied Tomas Hertl in the first minute, on an open look for the young winger. Brenden Dillon was stopped on the doorstep on an odd-man rush. Patrick Marleau couldn’t convert a breakaway after a nifty lead pass feathered ahead by Chris Tierney.
Worst of all, the Sharks were 0-for-4 on the power play, with the top unit struggling at times to just get the puck out of its own end.
The 2-0 lead remained after 40 minutes, but coach Pete DeBoer had an uneasy feeling in the dressing room.
“When we didn’t cash in on those, I didn’t feel good going into the third, no,” said the coach.
Trying to avoid their second home loss in as many games to start the season, the Blue Jackets pushed in the third, as DeBoer sensed they would. Zach Werenski’s power play goal cut the lead in half and Columbus managed as many shots in the final frame (14) as it had through the first two.
Still, the Sharks hung on. An empty net, power play goal by Marleau increased the advantage to 3-1 with 33 seconds to go, and the Jackets’ Josh Anderson scored with 22 seconds left to generate the 3-2 final.
“They hung in there,” said Mikkel Boedker, who opened the scoring with his first goal. “They are starting out, too, so they want to get their first win. We were just out of the gates a little better than they were and we were able to hang on here in the end.”
San Jose has won its first two games of the season, as well as its first road game, where it was an NHL-best 28-10-3 in 2015-16.
The strong first period ended up being the difference. Boedker’s shot from the circle opened the scoring at 9:22, and about five minutes later Joel Ward redirected in a hard tape-to-tape pass from the corner by Brent Burns.
“I was trying to sneak my way back door and luckily it was an unbelievable pass,” Ward said.
But just as he mentioned after the first game, DeBoer would have liked to see his team capitalize on its numerous chances after that, calling it a “good, sloppy road win.”
“We had some real quality opportunities to extend the lead and didn’t,” he said. “When that happens and you let a team hang around, you’re fighting for your life down the stretch. Hopefully lesson learned, and move on with two points.”
DeBoer’s gripes are indicative of how high a bar he has set for the Sharks this season, coming off of their appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. The Blue Jackets are a young team, and probably are not going anywhere. The Sharks’ remaining four opponents on this five-game trip – the Rangers, Islanders, Penguins and Red Wings – will likely provide much tougher competition.
Still, there’s something to be said for winning the first two games by close scores, according to goalie Martin Jones. The Sharks beat the Kings on Wednesday in their season opener, 2-1.
“It was a good, gutsy win,” Jones said. “To have 2-1 and 3-2 wins the first two games of the season is a good sign.”
Ward said: “We’ve played two good games so far. We’ve got some stuff to work on, of course. Just good to come out of here with a win.”