The San Jose Sharks had just six points in nine home games through the first quarter of the 2015-16 NHL season before hosting the Calgary Flames Saturday, Nov. 28. The first game between the Pacific Division rivals was over within a minute of its midpoint.
Calgary was 4-1-0 in this series in the 2014-15 NHL season before reaching the Pacific Division finals. It won all three games in San Jose against a team that failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in over a decade.
The 2015-16 NHL season has been dramatically different thus far. The Flames have struggled out of the gate and were coming off an overtime loss the night before. The pictured Sharks were especially instrumental in keeping the trend going.
This win puts San Jose in a great position a point out of first place in the surprisingly weak Pacific Division. Logan Couture will certainly return at some point in December and when he does, Justin Braun will certainly already be back.
Nevertheless, this was a rebound game for the Sharks. Not only did they turn their fortunes on home ice and against a team they struggled with the previous season, but they won their first game when missing a blue-line cornerstone.
When top-pair defender Paul Martin went down early in the 2015-16 NHL season, San Jose lost all three games by a combined score of 14-4. Without Braun Wednesday, the score was 5-2 with one empty-net goal.
It was also important that the Sharks not give up another early goal and rebound on special teams. They did not lose the shutout until near the midpoint of the third and had a five-for-five efficiency on special teams with a goal on both power plays while killing all three penalties, praying on the league’s worst special teams (second-worst power play and worst penalty kill) so far this 2015-16 NHL season.
It was also a rebound game because the third line answered the bell after seeing its ice time reduced. Tommy Wingels and Tomas Hertl had not scored a goal in at least 14 games each and found themselves benched for almost the entire third period of Wednesday’s loss that broke San Jose’s six-game winning streak. Matt Nieto has been among the healthy scratches once this 2015-16 NHL season and has frequented the fourth line.
The Sharks really should have sent Nieto down to the AHL before Saturday’s game made him ineligible to be reassigned without clearing waivers, but he had a strong game rounding out the best line on the ice for either team. They got things started just over nine minutes into the game when Hertl fed Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the point, whose shot through traffic was deflected home by Wingels.
That line made sure there was not going to be any letting up, scoring 3:33 later: Brenden Dillon took advantage of a giveaway with a slap-shot fake that opened up a chance to feed Hertl on the right wing, who gathered and shot from a bad angle before Jonas Hiller could seal off the far post.
After Calgary failed to convert two power plays, Nieto drew a penalty for roughing on Deryk Engelland that sparked Hertl to defend his teammate. Another penalty left San Jose enough time to cash in on a two-man advantage and then score again before the second penalty ended, showing killer instinct against the Pacific Division rival.
Joe Pavelski got the primary assist on both. On the first, he got the puck from Joe Thornton behind the net and fed Joel Ward just as the big forward was able to free his stick just in time to one-time it home. The next came after getting the puck from Brent Burns and sending a cross-ice feed Patrick Marleau gathered and wrist-shot home past Hiller’s glove.
The Sharks held that lead 9:42 into the third period, when the Flames ended the shutout: Mark Giordano advanced the puck to T.J. Brodie, who fed Markus Granlund through the neutral zone to enable a wicked wrist-shot goal over the shoulder of Martin Jones from the high slot.
San Jose scored to quash any hope of a comeback: Nieto got the puck out of the defensive zone to Wingels, who waited until Vlasic could join the rush and fed him crashing the net. By the time Calgary could score again (David Jones dug the puck from the corner toward the crease and Jones did not look ready for Micheal Ferland to jam it home) there were only 77 seconds left.
As is often the case in games where one team jumps out to an early lead, the event summary has peculiarities. The Sharks were horrible on the possession statistics, losing all three: 24-26 faceoffs, 18-14 giveaways and 8-10 takeaways. Yet they were out-hit 27-15 and thus allowed eight more attempts (67-59).
What San Jose did well was play smart to protect the lead and sacrifice to get in passing and shooting lanes, riding a 26-10 lead in blocks to a 29-27 edge in shots on goal. That loss dropped Calgary into a virtual tie for last in the Pacific Division into the second quarter of the 2015-16 NHL season.