Sharks (finally) beat the Ducks 3-1(Wed.); edge Blue Jackets 2-1 (Thurs.)...

The San Jose Sharks have had a busy week. After exercising the nemesis that is Vancouver on Monday, the Sharks had the assignment of exercising another nemesis in the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday. Brad Winchester’s goal at 16:23 of the 2nd period which broke the Sharks SoCal scoreless streak (which lasted well over 7 1/2 periods or 166:23), and was followed up by Ben Ferriero’s 4th goal of the season 27 seconds later as the Sharks rallied to defeat Anaheim 3-1. The win was the first for the Sharks over their arch rival this season in four tries. Antti Niemi made 25 saves on the evening, and Dan Boyle had one big save himself in the third period.

24 hours later the Sharks took on the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Tank. This was a game where the goalies came up huge for both teams. Thomas Griess made 23 saves with maybe the most important one being the pad save on Jeff Carter with 9 seconds left in the game as Sharks held on to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1. Goals from Ryane Clowe and Joe Thornton held up as Griess made the saves that counted the most. Meanwhile, Griess’ counterpart Curtis Sanford of Columbus kept the Blue Jackets in the game and had a very strong game in net himself, making 37 saves as he weathered almost everything the Sharks threw at him. The three wins over the Canucks, Ducks and Blue Jackets this week give the Sharks a mark of 22-11-4 for 48 points, currently 3rd in the Western Conference and 7-1-2 in the last ten games. However, just a point behind the Sharks in the Pacific Division are those pesky L A Kings who are 7th in the WC, and are just a point behind the Sharks (47 points, and 6-2 since Darryl Sutter took over as head coach). This is looking like it will be one of the tightest races in the history of any division in the NHL.

And now for the Ducks and Blue Jackets debriefings:

Duck and Cover – The first meeting in Anaheim this season (Oct 14th) was about as frustrating a night as any for the Sharks who were stoned by Jonas Hiller as the Ducks would win that match 1-0. Fast forward 82 days later to Wednesday Night, and for a good while it looked like almost a replay of the Oct 14th game. Corey Perry would get Anaheim on the board just 2:37 into the game as Andrew Cogliano was able to force a turnover off the stick of Patrick Marleau from inside the Sharks zone at the blue line. Cogliano quickly fed the puck to a wide open C Perry, who then put on a deek move that got A Niemi to bite on it, and Perry was able to stuff the puck into the net before Niemi could readjust himself and the Ducks had a one goal lead. The first period again proved to be an exercise in frustration for team teal, who would outshoot the Ducks 12-3. The problem for the Sharks, Jonas Hiller who has always been a difficult goalie for the Sharks to solve.

The frustration would continue for the Sharks in the second period as again Jonas Hiller would continue to stop every shot, close or long range, including a slap shot from Logan Couture that appeared for a second as it might get by Hiller, but didn’t.  Meanwhile, Niemi would recover and turn in some strong saves of his own, including a breakaway chance by the Ducks Bobby Ryan as Niemi held his ground and this time was able to position himself to where he could stop Ryan’s scoring chance. Just a moment later, Jamie McGinn from the Sharks defensive zone would hit B Winchester with a long range pass. Winchester got the pass, and though he was covered by B Ryan he was still able to rifle a shot that hit the corner post and ricocheted into the net passed a stunned Hiller to tie the game. This also gave the Sharks their first SoCal goal since Joe Thornton’s series clinching goal against the Kings in last seasons playoffs.

Getting all their Ducks in a Row – Winchester’s goal drew the Sharks even and gave the Sharks new life and energy.  Just 27 seconds later the Sharks would take a 2-1 lead thanks to a very aggressive assault in the Ducks defensive zone, which would result in B Ferriero making good on his second try after just missing seconds earlier. As the puck came back out to the point, Mark-Edouard Vlasic would feed the puck across the ice to D Boyle. Boyle from there drilled a slap shot which was deflected back to Couture. Couture then fed Ferriero who despite the traffic around the net was able to jam the puck underneath Hiller and give the Sharks their first lead against Anaheim all season.

The Sharks outshot the Ducks 29-11 through two periods, however it was the third period that would be quite the adventure as Anaheim turned up the heat. The Ducks were very agressive and twice hit goal posts as they controlled much of the final period’s play. Niemi stood tall and was able to get to most of the pucks, but needed a little help durring a later Anaheim power play. Lubomir Visnovsky’s close range shot hit Niemi’s pads but still snuck through the five hole, and looked to be a certain goal. However, D Boyle turned out to be the man of the hour and had Niemi’s back literally. Boyle was perfectly stationed and was able to knock the puck out of the goal crease just before it could cross the goal line, preserving the Sharks one goal lead. A few moments later, it was J Thornton who would steal the puck from Sheldon Brookbank in the neutral zone near the boards, then take the puck towards the net. Thornton’s shot was saved by Hiller, however Hiller could not control the rebound. J Pavelski won the race to the loose puck and caught Hiller who was just enough out of position. Pavelski’s shot hit the back of the uncovered portion of the net and the Sharks had a 3-1 lead they would not relinquish. The Sharks would finish the game strong and keep the Ducks at bay for the rest of the evening, and finally get the Anaheim monkey, or in this case Duck off of their back for the first time in the 2011-12 season.

Full Metal Blue Jackets - After dispatching the Ducks, the Sharks returned to the Tank to take on Columbus in the second game of back-to backs. Given that the Sharks had to work very hard to take down Anaheim the night before, you would almost be worried about a slight lapse early on. Unfortunately this is exactly what happened as the start of this game somewhat mirrored the Ducks game as the Blue Jackets would take a 1-0 lead before some of the sellout crowd had yet to be seated. Vinny Prospal was able to stuff the puck under Thomas Griess just 2:13 into the contest, getting the puck out of the traffic behind the Sharks goal area. Griess, who started so the Sharks could give Niemi the night off to rest, knew that from this point on he had to become the steel door to the hatch. Griess would be challenged early and often, but held strong and stopped the nine other Blue Jacket shots on goal for the period. On the other side of the ice, the Jackets Curtis Sanford would be strong in net as by the halfway point of the period the momentum had started to swing towards the Sharks.

The Sharks would get a golden opportunity when Columbus’ Ryan Johansen was called for a double minor high sticking penalty. The Sharks power play, despite the four minute length would struggle partly because of Sanford, and partly because it just seemed to be a little on the slow side. Finally the Sharks would break through as R Clowe would be able to clean up a loose puck after a failed attempt by Michal Handzus to stuff it past Sanford. However, as Sanford was able to stone Handzus, he fell back into the net and Clowe was the first one to the lose puck and flipped it past Sanford to tie the game. The Sharks would almost totally dominate the second period and blistered Sanford with multiple shots, only to see the Blue Jacket goalie make 14 strong saves and keep Columbus in the game. The Sharks though would still manage to get one puck by Sanford, at the 4:44 mark when Thornton was able to knock a rebound of a Marleau shot out of the air, showing some excellent hand and eye coordination. Thornton was able to knock the puck back towards the net and Sanford could do nothing about this one as it went in and the Sharks had a 2-1 lead.

The third period was not for the faint at heart as both teams traded scoring opportunities and each goalie would get a solid test. Sanford held up his end of the bargain for the Blue Jackets, frustrating the Sharks with nine saves. Some of the frustration for the Sharks including a point blank slap shot from Couture that beat Sanford but hit the top crossbar during a Sharks power play. Meanwhile, for the Sharks it would ultimately be up to Griess to keep Columbus off the scoreboard. The Blue Jackets never quit and applied lots of defensive zone pressure particularly towards the end, where they were able to keep the puck in the Sharks zone and keep the game in doubt until the last seconds had ticked off of the clock. In the final minute, Griess turned away a couple of furious scoring chances, beginning with a hard and loud shot on goal by Rick Nash. With 14 seconds left, Dan Boyle dove in front of a point blank shot from Jeff Carter to block it. Carter however was able to get the rebound and was able to get another shot away. Griess was able to knock down Carter’s second shot on goal before it went into the net. The Sharks would clear the zone and turn away the Blue Jackets as time ran out. With this win (and the previous night’s win), the Sharks won back to back games and captured two of the games they had in hand (the Sharks having played the least amount of games of any team going into this week). Though the records of the last two opponents were not great, they still were important games for the Sharks to get into the win column. Six points this week and earning points in the standings in 10 of their last 11 games is huge, and the Sharks need to build on this and put December’s swoon behind them.

Next Up: Ovetchkin & The Caps – With the Ducks and Blue Jackets games securely in the win column, the Sharks will next take on the Washington Capitals in the first of two meetings this season with this Eastern Conference power. Alex Ovetchkin, along with Niklas Backstom, Dennis Wideman and a strong supporting cast lead the Caps into the Tank for this rare visit. The Sharks will have their hands full as the Caps are loaded with a roster of strong snipers than can score from almost anywhere on the ice just north of the neutral zone. Veteran net minder Tomas Vokoun is 16-8-0 with a .915 save percentage, while his backup Michal Neuvirth has an .887 save percentage. Despite their obvious firepower led by Ovetchkin, the Caps are currently 8th in the Eastern Conference Standings and have already had one major shakeup this season, replacing head coach Bruce Boudreau (now with Anaheim) with one time team captain Dale Hunter. The Caps are desperate to move up in the Eastern Conference standings and should give the Sharks a good solid test. The Sharks this season have risen up to the challenge and have handled strong teams this season, and this will be another one of those challenges. With home ice now at a premium (18 games left believe it or not), the Sharks need as many home ice wins as they can get starting now…



The King Shark

*What would The Wizard say to Dorothy today? Probably something like “Forget the yellow brick road, follow the teal road instead. And while your doing that, also follow “Blades of Teal” on twitter @bladesofteal, or follow The King Shark @Kingshark49…or you can also follow @AmySnow17 & @Puckguy14…and while your at it, here’s $10, get me a six pack of Molson too”  (disclaimer: that wasn’t really said in the movie, though maybe it should have been)…

Blades of Teal: “The Final Word on San Jose Sharks Hockey!!!”…

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