Electric Youth- Thomas Hertl may only be a 19 year old rookie that Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith saw for only the first time ever Saturday night. Apparently Hertl didn’t get the memo that Smith is one of the top shut down goalies in the NHL, and it was probably helpful if the Sharks did not tell him this either. Hertl just needed 46 seconds to light the lamp against Smith, and then repeated the feat seven minutes later as the San Jose Sharks went on to down the Coyotes 4-1 before another full house at the Shark Tank. Hertl who a year ago was playing professional hockey for HC Slavia Praha in the Czech League does not seem to be the least bit phased by the bright lights of the NHL as he was all over the ice making plays and taking Phoenix’s best shots all night. Patrick Marleau also added his second goal of the season during the Sharks three goal first period barrage. Logan Couture added an empty net score very late in the game. The Sharks are off to a good start against the Pacific Division winning their first two games of the season against Vancouver and Phoenix. Antti Niemi had a night in the net that was anything but ordinary as he had to make several saves when the Coyotes had their opportunities. Mike Smith despite the early rough start still managed to make 48 saves.
First Period Outburst- The Sharks as a team fed off of the energy that Hertl infused with his early goal that set the tone for the evening. Smith would get better as the game went on and actually did what he could to keep the Coyotes in the game. Hertl opened the scoring after taking a cross ice pass from Mark-Edouard Vlasic and split the Coyotes defenders. Flanked by Joe Thornton to his right, Hertl took the puck and delivered a wrister that cleanly beat Smith five hole to give the Sharks the early lead. From this point the Sharks kept the pressure on Phoenix and kept pressing the issue on the Coyotes end of the rink. Later in the period the Coyotes Oliver Ekman-Larsson was called for a holding penalty. Hertl’s second goal of the game came in the waning seconds of the power play as he was able to station himself in front of Smith and deflect a pass from Matt Irwin into the net. The was the Sharks first power play goal of the season on their ninth overall try. Team Teal did not take too much longer to get their second power play goal of the season. Patrick Marleau was able to stuff in a rebound of a puck Smith was not able to control in the goal crease. This power play goal was made possible thanks to the Coyotes’ Kyle Chipchura high-sticking Thornton which gave the Sharks this latest man advantage opportunity.
Keeping Up the Pursuit- The Sharks continued to effectively attack the Coyotes zone in the second period and were able to launch an good number of pucks towards Smith. However Smith by this time had cleared his head and remembered he was Mike Smith. The Sharks for all of their efforts in the period could not find that elusive fourth goal that would have pretty much iced the game away. Late in the second period Ekman-Larsson would get the Coyotes on the board as he was able to beat Niemi with a slap shot that went five hole. The Coyotes would press the Sharks after this goal scored and managed to get off the last five shots of the period but could do no further damage as Niemi had quickly recovered. In the final period the Sharks got back to being more aggressive and again gave Mr. Smith all he can handle. Smith on the evening made several strong saves on the Sharks after the rough start with his performance actually being judged to be worthy of the games second star of the evening. Despite Smith doing his part late, the Sharks did their part equally well defensively. Team Teal did not allow the Coyotes any real decent good look at the net or any lengthy periods of sustained offense inside of the Sharks blue line. Couture’s empty net goal with just 24 seconds remaining capped off an evening that went quite well for the Sharks overall. Hertl for his efforts was named the games’ first star of the night while Vlasic pulled in the games’ third star with his two assist. Hertl later was named as the NHL Networks’ third star of the evening as well.
Power Play Improved- The Sharks came into the game a statistical 0 for 8 on the power play as this was really the only flaw in their win over Vancouver Thursday night. The Sharks players and coaches obviously worked on it and made shooting the puck and getting it on the net a priority. The difference between Thursday’s game and this game was seeing the Sharks just getting the puck towards the Coyotes net and crashing Smith often. To his credit Smith held up well as the game went along. However the Sharks were attacking Smith in waves and kept him busy in the crease for the entire evening. The Sharks were not looking for the perfect shot and were not per-occupied with passing the puck back and forth to each other. Any night that your power play goes 2 for 4 is generally a very good night and there is probably a good chance your team will win the game as the end result. The Sharks still need to do some work with it but tonight you saw what was a much more focused attempt to create the necessary havoc for the opposing goalie. If the Sharks can do this constantly when on the power play they will become one of the more feared power play units in the NHL.
Defense/Penalty Kill Quietly Did Their Job- Defensively the Sharks simply did not give Phoenix too many opportunities in holding the Coyotes to just 23 shots on goal for the evening. The Coyotes did have some moments in the game, particularly where they were able to press the Sharks late in the second period. However Team Teal held the line when they needed to and did not allow the Coyotes to set up shop on their end of the ice for any sustainable amount of time. Niemi still had to work for his saves tonight and did so quietly, largely because the Sharks were able to control the play when they playing back in their zone.
Next Game- The Sharks are off until Tuesday when the continue their season opening homestand with a rare appearance by the New York Rangers at the Shark Tank. The Rangers are on a lengthy western swing to start their season because of repairs being done to their home rink at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers are led by former Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault. New York is also led by Rick Nash, the former Columbus Blue Jacket who is no stranger to San Jose, as well as Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal, Brad Richards, Brian Boyle and Benoit Pouliot just to name a few. Former Shark Dominic Moore who returned to the NHL this season after taking last year off to deal with a personal tragedy is on the Rangers roster (if he gets into the game please give him an ovation, he deserves and has earned that respect). This should be a good game between two teams who just do not see each other too often. The Puck drops Tuesday night (October 8th) at 7:30pm (PT).
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