February 23, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau (12) battles Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul (19) for position after a face off at the Air Canada Centre. San Jose defeated Toronto 2-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

Marleau's Two Goals Lift Sharks over Maple Leafs 2-1

The San Jose Sharks got a much needed victory at Toronto’s Air Canada Center as Patrick Marleau’s two second period goals held up in a 2-1 win over the home standing Maple Leafs Thursday night. Antti Niemi rebounded nicely from a horrible game at Columbus just two nights earlier making 29 saves as he was challenged often throughout the game. The Sharks victory snaps a four game winless streak and lifts their record on this nine game road trip to 2-4-1. The win is even bigger as the Phoenix Coyotes won in overtime versus the Calgary Flames to match the Sharks in the Western Conference Standings with 71 points.

The game itself was a well played match by both teams as each team had some good scoring chances throughout. Niemi came up with some huge saves on the evening and was virtually equalled by Maples Leafs goalie James Reimer. The Maple Leafs goalie turned away plenty of Sharks chances on net and kept Toronto in the game. With both teams dealing with downswings in the standings in their respective conferences, this contest would be a huge two points for whichever team came out on top. With the win the Sharks hope to turn the tide of their recent down trend as challenges at Nashville and Minnesota await them before returning to the Shark Tank next week.

Recapping a Night in The Hockey Capital of the World:

No Leaf Clover- The four game losing steak coming into Thursday’s game felt like a freight train heading the Sharks way and hitting them fairly hard. After a bad game Tuesday night against the Blue Jackets, Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan stressed the importance of team teal’s need to start playing like a more desperate team. The Sharks certainly took heed to McLellan’s words and played a fairly crisp and much more focused game versus the Maple Leafs.

The first period was a largely defensive period as both teams seemed to be feeling each other out at the start. Reimer was called upon early to come with stops on hard shots from Logan Couture and Jim Vandermeer. Meanwhile Niemi was fairly busy on the other side of the ice. Toronto only managed five shots on goal however all shots were quality and called on Niemi to be on the ball, and he was. Niemi was able to get in front of a Matthew Lombardi point blank opportunity after a perfect feed pass from Tim Connolly, as well as turning away an early solid shot from former Avs player John-Michael Liles. Connolly later put a shot on net that Niemi had some trouble with in the crease but was able to control. Niemi’s best save of the period was stopping a Carl Gunnarsson slap shot from the slot.

Saint Patrick’s Night- The second period started out with the Sharks handling the opening face off and retaining puck possession thanks to a good forecheck. Just 32 seconds into the new period, Tommy Wingles was able to dig out the rubber biscuit from behind the Toronto goal and pass it over to Joe Thornton. From there, Thornton found Marleau alone to the left of the slot and send him a perfect feed pass. Marleau got the puck and drilled a wrist shot that beat Reimer top shelf to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead. Reimer despite giving up the goal would be sharp for most of the period as later on he would turn away a point blank attempt by Wingles.

Niemi meanwhile despite the Maple Leafs getting some better scoring chances then they did in the first period, continued to be on the ball and kept Toronto off of the scoreboard. Niemi got his share of challenges, fending off some hard shots from Luke Schenn and Cody Franzen. Joe Pavelski and Thornton had some point blank chances against Reimer as well only to see the Maple Leaf net minder able to fend off those scoring chances. The Sharks would get a huge break when Toronto’s L Schenn would be called for interfence as he crosschecked Ryane Clowe in the slot. The Sharks would waste little time taking advantage of this power play opportunity as Marleau would notch his second goal of the game just 17 seconds into the two minute man advantage. Thornton would retrieve the puck from the corner near the Maple Leafs’ goal and send a pass up the boards towards Dan Boyle. From there Boyle would drop the rubber biscuit off to Couture who drilled a slap shot that tipped off of the stick of Marleau, getting the puck past Reimer and into the back of the net. This was also the Sharks 10th power play goal in their last 12 games as the power play has gone 15 for it’s last 41 opportunities.

The Sharks got a second power play opportunity just moments later as the Maple Leafs’ Mikhail Grabovski was called for goal tender interference when he tripped Niemi in his goal crease. This opportunity did not work as well for the Sharks as the previous one did as Toronto came dangerously close to scoring a short handed goal. As the power play was winding down, Jason Demers broke his stick on an attempted slap shot and the puck sailed straight to the Leafs’ Joey Crabb who took the puck down ice. Despite having no stick Demers was able to keep pace with Crabb just enough to where he was able to force a shot that sailed off target and through the crease, just inches from the net.

A Series of Close Shaves – The Maple Leafs turned up the heat on the Sharks in the third and final period. The Leafs were able to get several good scoring chances that would challenge team teal’s and Niemi’s abilility to bend but not break. In the first 1:20 of the period alone, Niemi had to stop good in close opportunities from M Grabovski, Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel. The Maple Leafs would soon break the seal on the scoreboard when Jake Gardiner would drill a slap shot past Niemi just barely under four miuntes into the final frame. The Maple Leafs now had some momentum to carry them as they would continue to barrage Niemi throughout the remainder of the contest.

After a brief fight between Vandermeer and former Anaheim Duck Mike Brown, the Maple Leafs would take advantage of a Sharks turnover in Toronto’s defensive zone as the Sharks could not get the puck deep enough to settle back on defense. P Kessel would take the puck back up ice and feed drop it off to Schenn at the right point. Schenn then found Jake Gardiner open on the left point and passed the puck across the ice. Gardiner got control of the puck from there and drilled a slap shot that beat Niemi just as Couture barley missed on an attempt to block the shot. Toronto now was within a goal and had over 16 more minutes to get the game even. Niemi would get more challenges sent his way as he would be forced to make 15 saves in the period, or double what he saved in the first two periods combined.

Nemo Rebounds - Niemi’s best save of the period came on the heals of another Shark breaking his stick. Boyle’s broken stick resulted in allowing M Lombardi to seize the puck and have a path to the team teal goal. Niemi was able to make the point blank save on Lombardi as Boyle did not give up on the play which may have altered Lombardi’s path just enough to allow Niemi to get set. Later T Connolly off of a faceoff launched a puck towards the post at the Sharks net, however Niemi again had that angle covered as well. Shortly after this, Niemi denied Lombardi yet another point blank scoring chance. M Grabovski would also make a diving attempt shooting towards the net and missed the left post by just a few inches. The Leafs would go on to out shoot team teal 16-9 in the final period but could draw no closer as Niemi turned in one of his better performances this season, and when the Sharks needed it most.

Game Analysis- This road trip for the Sharks has seen it’s share of brutal games and games where team teal had brutal luck. Tonight the Sharks were able to regroup after a bad loss two nights earlier and keep focused throughout. The Sharks only penalty in the game was a five minute fighting major to Vandermeer, which cancels out anyway because the major is to both teams. The Sharks played a crisp sound hockey game though granted the third period certainly had it’s share of shaky moments. This was a must win for team teal as the fight to stay on top of the Pacific Division will be just that for the remainder of the regular season. The Sharks if they are to win the Pacific Division and capture the 3rd overall seed in the Western Conference, they will certainly have to earn it. Marleau was clutch tonight and his 55th career multi-goal game could not have come at a better time when teal teal needed it most.

The final two games of the road trip will be no easier of a task as the Sharks close out this trip with it’s 3rd set of back to back games, at Nashville on Saturday and at Minnesota on Sunday. The Predators have always played the Sharks tough in Nashville and are in the very thick of the Western Conference playoff chase. The Minnesota Wild have cooled off considerably since their hot start this season, however are still a formidable opponent for the Sharks who have dropped their last three games in the Twin Cities. These game will be tough, and the Sharks need to find away to get at least three if not four points in the standings over this weekends work schedule. Team teal must dig even deeper than they did tonight to have success in Nashville and Minnesota.


The King Shark

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