Kevin Labanc leads the San Jose Sharks past the Edmonton Oilers entering the Christmas break Friday, Dec. 23…
The San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers faced off at SAP Center in the final game before the Christmas break. There fans could witness the prophetic as Kevin Labanc leads the team with two goals Friday, Dec. 23.
The win officially put the Sharks in first place in the Pacific Division. They have one more point in two fewer games than the Oilers so far this 2016-17 NHL season.
More to the big picture, San Jose has 23 goals in its last seven games. Sure, two include the extra point for the shootout goal and another took overtime. Still, that is better than the offensive woes through the first half of November.
The Sharks scored a total of 37 goals in the first 16 games of the 2016-17 NHL season. Three were shutouts.
However, San Jose has scored 50 goals in the 18 games since. There has not been a single shutout and at least two were scored 17 times.
Why the change?
Most of this is because the Sharks have adjusted. Players are adapting to find what is working as the 2016-17 NHL season unfolds. The few roster changes—most notably newcomer Mikkel Boedker—have adjusted to new roles and line mates or defense partners.
However, it is hard to ignore the impact of new players. For instance, San Jose finally got a chance to look at the ninth overall pick of the 2015 NHL entry draft.
Timo Meier did not disappoint, scoring on his first shot for the Sharks. However, his debut was long after Labanc had already made an impact.
Labanc waded more gradually into NHL waters. He was scoreless in his first four games but played responsible hockey.
Labanc found the back of the net in his fifth game. It was the first of six games among 11 with a score (four goals, two assists). However, he then went scoreless in his next four games leading up to Friday.
San Jose’s captain got the first goal on the power play. Brent Burns moved the puck from Joe Thornton across the slot. The Joe Pavelski one-timer goal came in the first minute of the second period.
By the second intermission, it looked like that might be the game-winning goal. The Sharks only gave up 10 shots over the first 46-plus minutes of the game.
Connor McDavid scored on the next shot after a nifty play to enter the zone. Even then it had to bounce off two defenders to beat Martin Jones, playing in his 30th start of the 2016-17 NHL season.
Meanwhile, the only goalie to start more was under siege on the other end. Edmonton’s Cam Talbot was up to the task in his 32nd start. He turned away 25 of the first 26 shots through the first 80 percent of the game.
That was when Logan Couture found Labanc for another score to regain the lead. Unfortunately, San Jose barely had time to celebrate before Patrick Maroon tied the game back up 24 seconds later.
Thus, the Pacific Division battle went from one score in over 46 minutes to three in 148 seconds. Then it returned to no scoring until 3:22 into overtime. That was when Couture and Labanc hooked up again to give the rookie his first multi-point NHL game.
The numbers do not add up to an overtime game. That is because this contest was one or two lucky bounces away from being a one-sided affair.
The event summary represents San Jose’s advantage fairly well: 33-35 faceoffs, 17-28 giveaways, 11-1 takeaways, 17-24 hits, 31-18 shots and 59-48 attempts. Despite spending less time defending, the team led 14-13 in blocks. That is a 29.2 to 22.0 advantage in percentage of attempts blocked and 1.29 to 2.38 advantage in shots allowed per block.
All NHL players get through Monday off. The Sharks visit another Pacific Division rival on Tuesday.