March of the Sharks
Exactly two nights after spending an entire game looking ordinary, the San Jose Sharks found a way to look extraordinary when it matters the most. Team Teal exploded for four goals in the third period against the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins in route to a 5-3 victory before another sold out house at the Shark Tank. Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Brent Burns all scored for the Sharks in the explosive final period with Burns finding the back of the net twice.
The Sharks spent the first two periods being frustrated by their lack of success with the puck despite the many scoring chances they had throughout. During first two periods alone the Team Teal launched 31 shots on Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff who made 30 saves. Meanwhile Antti Niemi, in his second start in net since the end of the Olympic break, made 19 saves and seemed more focused as he made key saves to keep the Sharks in the game. The win also marks the first time the Sharks won a game in regulation time this season after falling behind by a 2-0 score.
Tough Breaks Early
The Sharks opened the game with more purpose in their game following a tough effort two nights before. The Sharks were able to get several pucks towards the Penguins net but just could get nothing by Zatkoff who was on his game early.
Pittsburgh also had some early scoring chances that were turned away by Niemi. However, not all the bounces went Niemi’s or the Sharks’ way in the opening period. The Penguins’ Olli Maatta would open the scoring when he was able to collect a rebound of a Tanner Glass shot on goal and knock the puck out of Niemi’s reach and into the net. Maatta’s goal came at the 15:09 mark of the opening period. This seemed to take a bit of steam out of the Sharks who soon would have an even bigger problem on their hands just a moment later after a roughing penalty on Burns.
The Penguins would then flex their muscle and show the Sharks why they have one of the top power play units in the NHL. Former Anaheim Duck Chris Kunitz would hammer a wrist shot past Niemi 39 seconds into Pittsburgh’s man advantage putting the visitors up by a deuce. The Sharks would get some more pucks on net before the end of the period including a shot on goal off of a faceoff by Thornton that Zatkoff saved as time expired.
Second Period Survival Kit
Team Teal would find the first few minutes of the middle of period a question of whether they could survive another Penguins onslaught. An early hooking penalty to Matt Irwin forced the Sharks into a penalty kill situation where they had to make good on. Niemi made some key saves here on Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin while the Sharks defensively arose to the occasion to turn back the Penguins man advantage.
The Sharks game would then pick up as they would begin to chip away at Zatkoff and the Penguins stingy team defense. The first 15 Sharks shot on net would all be denied. Then there was that 16th shot on net taken by Jason Demers which snuck past Zatkoff thanks in part to a strong screen by Adam Burish. The Sharks now within a goal got a few more good scoring chances in the Penguins’ zone before the period ran out. The Sharks would end the second period on the power play with some fairly decent momentum going in their favor.
Enough Is Enough- The Sharks, despite having over a minute of power play time to start the final period could not score on the opportunity. A few moments later, the Sharks would get one of the ultimate NHL litmus tests thrown at them when Matt Nieto was given a double minor for a high stick that cut Simon Despres. Team Teal now faced the unenviable task of having to kill off a four-minute Penguins power play. The Sharks, through aggressive puck pursuit and strong defense, were able to kill of the first two minutes of the double minor penalty. On the second half of the double minor, things would get very interesting in a hurry.
Patrick Marleau was able to get a short-handed breakaway going as the Penguins could not hold the puck in the Sharks zone. However the Penguins’ Malkin was able to track down Marleau and poke check the puck away. About 20 seconds later, Marleau got another chance as again he was able to get the control of the puck in the neutral zone and take off towards the Penguins goal. This time Malkin could not quite chase Marleau down before he was able to drill a wrist shot past Zatkoff to tie the game at 2-2. The sent the sellout crowd at the Shark Tank into a frenzy.
That frenzy, though, would be quickly cooled off as the Penguins would regain the lead just 21 seconds later. Maatta would score on a wrister for the second time, beating Niemi again to his right to finish the Pittsburgh power play. Despite the Penguins marker to answer the Sharks short-handed goal just seconds earlier, the Sharks still played as if they still had plenty of momentum left over. Just a moment after the Penguins took the lead, Burns, whose earlier penalty in the first period resulted in the Penguins first power play goal would atone for his earlier miscue. Burns was able to drill a solid wrist shot past Zatkoff after taking a perfect feed pass from Thornton. The Team Teal Captain was able to hold the rubber biscuit in the right corner of Pittsburgh’s defensive zone just long enough for Burns to get open approaching the goal crease.
The game was ultimately decided by something that has been rarely seen this season. With Joe Pavelski winning a faceoff at the left point of the Penguins’ zone, he was able to get the puck to Thornton who then launched a long-range wrist shot that somehow beat Zatkoff. The Sharks for the first time all evening had the lead at 4-3 with 5:39 remaining in regulation. The Penguins would put on a furious comeback attempt late with Niemi having to make a pair of saves on Matt Niskanen and Brandon Sutter in the waning moments of the contest. Burns would add an empty netter just before time expired.
The Sharks, after a rather lethargic game against Carolina on Tuesday, needed to raise their game against a team that has been a previous league champion and knows how to perform on a big stage. The Sharks after being bottled up in the goal scoring department for the better part of a two game span finally broke through when they needed to most against the Penguins. A team can build on wins such as this one. However, the Sharks need to bring more of a team effort to the arena as they had tonight if they want to enjoy a long post season run.
This does not erase some of the lesser games they have played, but this effort showed that they can raise their game and have that ability. It’s all about the Sharks getting into better habits as far as how they approach games. Going forward, there isn’t a game remaining on the schedule that won’t have some relevance in the standings. The Sharks going forward need to work harder as a unit and keep their eye on the prize. The key will be building momentum going into April and the post season. If the Sharks get hot at the right time they can do a lot. They need to bring these efforts to their office at the Shark Tank more often. Overall a solid team effort was the key to the Sharks win here.
Next Sharks Game- Saturday Night (3/8) vs. the Montreal Canadians at the Shark Tank. The puck drops after 7pm and the game can be seen on CSN in Northern California. The game will also be shown nationwide north of the border as it is the second game of the weekly Hockey Night in Canada broadcast on the CBC Network.
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