Annti Niemi made 24 saves and was backed up by goals from Logan Couture and Brad Winchester as the San Jose Sharks shutout the Winnipeg Jets 2-0 before a full house at Winnipeg’s MTS Arena. The win gives the Sharks a mark of 1-0-1 two games into this four game road trip, and was a nice rebound after a tough overtime loss in Minneapolis two nights earlier. The game itself proved to be also a nice rebound for Niemi, who pitched his second shutout of the season after a rough game against the Wild Tuesday. The win also gives the Sharks a season mark to date of 24-11-5 for 53 points and a three point lead over the L A Kings, who lost in overtime to Dallas Thursday Night. The Sharks in addition are sporting one of the better road marks in the NHL at 10-4-3.
While the Sharks have been trending upward as of late, going 7-1-2 in their last 10 games, the Jets have been having a bit of a rough go having lost Shark nemesis Dustin Byfuglien who has now missed eight straight games with a lower body injury. Meanwhile, Zach Bogosian was also out of the line up with a lower-body injury himself having suffered this during the Jets previous game in Boston. Niemi’s counterpart in net, the Jets Ondrej Pavelec was every bit as tough as the Sharks net minder keeping Winnipeg in the game making multiple saves throughout.
A recap of the evening at the MTS Arena:
Westside Story 2012 - I don’t know that you can truly call this the continuation of the “Westside Story” between the two teams which last played during the 1995-96 season. Especially since this carnation of the Jets is in the Eastern Conference (and will be for the foreseeable future). However, with the full house in attendance the atmosphere for the game was very vocal early on. The Jets fans took to booing Joe Thornton, though really it was nothing personal. Jets fans will pick an opposing player to “boo” just to create an even healthier interest in the game itself, and remind the visiting team that they are in hostile territory. Of course, the Jets fans could have also been upset that Thornton’s side kick “Slappy” did not make the road trip. Give the fans in Winnipeg a ton of credit though for embracing this team as their own and being there to the very end of the evening. They have already showed this season that the city of Winnipeg is worthy of the NHL.
Another Tight Opening Act - The first period showed both teams displaying a lot of energy and taking advantage of the many scoring chances they both had. Niemi for the Sharks though was spot on making 10 saves and being on point during an early Jets power play. Niemi also stopped a breakaway shot from Evander Kane off a Sharks turnover. The Sharks meanwhile were just as busy on the other end of the ice, keeping the work load heavy for O. Pavelec who had to make 14 saves, including an early point blank chance by Patrick Marleau. The Sharks best scoring chances came during a four on four opportunity after both Jason Demers and former Shark Kyle Wellwood were sent to the penalty box, Demers for holding and Wellwood for diving/embellishment. Though the Sharks had good quality chances here, Pavelec was more than up to the challenge and kept the Sharks at bay. The Sharks ended the first period with a 14-10 shot advantage.
Second Verse, Same as the First – Both goalies continued to stone the opponents as the defenses seemed to be more stiff than in the opening period. The Sharks again were faced with another penalty kill situation when Brent Burns was shown the penalty box after a very marginal interference call. The Sharks again were up to the challenge and were able to successfully get the kill they needed. Meanwhile, Pavelec was holding up his end of the bargain for the Jets and stopped Sharks scoring chances, fending off near point blank shots from Marleau, Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle.
A Change in the “Couture” – The game would continue to be tight as both goalies continued to hold up. This however would soon change this as with 6:33 left in the second period, Burns got ahold of a loose puck in the Sharks defensive zone and was able to bring it all the way down the ice. When Burns got to the side of the Winnipeg goal he spotted Couture charging up ice to his right. Burns got the perfect feed pass to Couture who’s quick wrist shot drilled the puck into the net past Pavelec to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead. Couture’s goal was his 18th of the season, and came on the same day he was named to this years NHL All-Star Game. It also had the effect of (temporarily) silencing the sell out crowd at the MTS Arena. The Sharks had another opportunity just a moment later when the Jets Blake Wheeler was sent to the penalty box for slashing. However, the Jets and Pavelec would be able to gain their composure and kill off the Sharks power play chance and get the crowd back in the game. Niemi though would continue to hold the fort for the Sharks as the game moved on to the third period.
Sharks apply the pressure - The Sharks would take full charge of the contest in the final period by continuing to press the Jets in their defensive zone and keep Winnipeg’s netmider Pavelec very busy. The Sharks would strike early in the period just a moment after Pavelec turned away a point blank chance by Michael Handzus. Team teal would execute what looked almost to be a perfect tic-tac-toe play. This however was not from the usual suspects. Andrew Murray won a struggle behind the Jets goal to wrest control of the puck, and was able to feed it over to Andrew Desjardins who’s shot towards the goal rebounded off of Pavelec. The rebound of the puck went straight to the stick of Winchester who flicked it into the open area of the net and gave the Sharks their two goal lead.
Defense establishes Niemi’s “No Fly Zone” – Meanwhile, Niemi would continue to keep the Jets off the board as the Sharks defense would continue to frustrate Winnipeg. The only shot that really beat Niemi all night was from B Wheeler, who launched a slap shot that hit the left post just a moment after Winchester’s goal. The Sharks defense held the Jets to just six shots on goal in the final period and put the game on lock down. Niemi would finish the night completing his second shut out of the season. The Shark themselves launched 14 shots in the period and 37 for the game and completed arguably one of their best defensive nights of the season.
Game Assessment - The Sharks I would not go as far as to say played a perfect game, however their effort was truly solid throughout. Though Winnipeg was down a few players, the Jets were in the contest until the Sharks established full dominance in the third period. Niemi has to feel very good about his effort in this game just two nights removed from a rather off performance in Minneapolis versus the Minnesota Wild. As I said in that post game article, Niemi is arguably one of the best goalies going and has been there more often than not, and will be there more often than not. Truthfully, when everything shakes down I would rather have Niemi have a bad night in January as opposed to April, or May. He was nails against the Jets and this game should be a good confidence booster for himself as well as the entire team.
Congrats to Logan Couture – As many of you probably already know, Logan Couture was selected to participate in this years NHL All-Star game which takes place in Ottawa on January 29th at the Scotiabank Place Arena. Couture has been a strong player for the Sharks since he came on board full time last season. I feel (baring injury of course, knock on wood) Couture in time will be one of the Sharks leading scorers, and just maybe even the next Patrick Marleau.
Two down, two more to go - With two of the four legs down on this road trip, the Sharks next will travel to Ohio’s capital city of Columbus where they will take on the Blue Jackets in their second of four meeting this season. The Sharks defeated the Blue Jackets January 5th 2-1 at the Tank. With the Chicago Blackhawks being on the docket just under 24 hours later, I would look perhaps for Thomas Griess to start this game for team teal giving Niemi a good three days rest before facing his former team in the Windy City. Getting points in the standings here will be very important as we are getting into the point of the season where every standings point matters. However, the Blue Jackets seem to always play the Sharks tough in Columbus, so take nothing for granted here.
GO SHARKS!!! Keep it rolling in Columbus & Chicago!!!
The King Shark
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