The San Jose Sharks had not won consecutive home games the entire first half of the 2015-16 NHL season before hosting the Edmonton Oilers to start the second half on Thursday, Jan. 14. It featured the return of former coach Todd McLellan and his bench behind that of a Pacific Division rival, but the story would be told by the pictured stars of the game.
It was a game won by a tired team sick of losing in San Jose and just giving a little more, as represented by every event summary statistic: 27-19 faceoffs, 19-9 giveaways (a negative statistic but one that reflects pushing play), 11-7 takeaways, 16-25 hits (reflecting a possession edge over Edmonton), 37-25 shots and 61-52 attempts.
Perhaps more noteworthy is that the Sharks had a 17-11 edge in blocks. To do that with the shooting edge they had was most impressive: 1.47 shots per block vs. 3.36 and 32.7 percent of attempts vs. just 18 for the Oilers.
The defensive commitment was there and when it did break down, Martin Jones usually bailed San Jose out. That kind of effort was needed against even the last-place team in the Pacific Division because of the home struggles to date in the 2015-16 NHL season did not allow for explaining failure.
The worst home record in the league only allowed the Sharks to be inside the Stanley Cup playoff picture because the Pacific Division has been weak in the first half of the 2015-16 NHL season. With rivals coming on, home struggles must cease to hang onto that final berth.
Both the Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames made the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs and have played well since October. Neither is more than two games back of San Jose in the Pacific Division right now.
Getting off to a good start had been a problem in 12 of the previous 18 home games this 2015-16 NHL season, but the Sharks scored first for the seventh time Thursday. Joe Thornton has now scored in 11 of his last 12 games by throwing an outlet pass Melker Karlsson scooped up and sent to Marc-Edouard Vlasic just inside the attacking zone for a rocket off the crossbar and in from the left-wing circle 11:29 into the game.
From there, Cam Talbot looked even better goalie than Jones. He turned away all 10 shots from a very efficient San Jose power play.
Edmonton finally took advantage of a mistake when Lauri Korpikoski scooped up the puck Justin Schultz rimmed up from the defensive zone and entered the zone with line-mate Nail Yakupov and only one defender. The two executed a one-timer goal in the slot to beat Jones for what would be the only time all game.
Joe Pavelski whipped a five-hole shot in before Joonas Donskoi undressed Talbot on the second shot. Jones turned aside Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to secure the extra point for the Sharks.
The team scoring first has now won all 19 games in San Jose this 2015-16 NHL season. The Arizona Coyotes are a game ahead for second place in the Pacific Division, while Edmonton is in last place three games back of .500 and its two fellow Canadian division rivals.