The San Jose Sharks opened a critical five-game road trip with a win Tuesday, Dec. 15. They held the balance of byteclay.com’s pictured stars of the game to result in a win over another team that is struggling through injuries, the Montreal Canadiens.
Before the game, the team learned Tomas Hertl would not be able to play. He had just been moved to his rookie role on Joe Thornton’s wing opposite new captain Joe Pavelski, forcing San Jose head coach Peter DeBoer to further juggle the lines in the wake of a different leg injury to Logan Couture.
The Sharks have had Couture for just seven games in 32 so far in the 2015-16 NHL season. With Hertl out too, DeBoer turned to a veteran whose career may have ended were it not for a call from his coach when he was with the New Jersey Devils.
Dainius Zubrus is long past his peak, but he knows how to support two veterans like Thornton and Pavelski. The move turned out to be a great one as San Jose’s listed top line broke out of a slump for two goals.
At least DeBoer had his full blue-line compliment. The Sharks have only one win without either Marc-Edouard Vlasic or Paul Martin.
Montreal had only one injury, but that is significant when he plays the most important position in all of sports as well as anyone in the world. Then again, San Jose has scored two or fewer goals against 10 different current or career backup goals already this 2015-16 NHL season.
The Sharks have also trailed before the first television timeout 13 times this 2015-16 NHL season, and looked headed for it again. The Canadiens registered 10 of the first 11 shots and had 21 of the first 24 attempts.
Then Joel Ward got the puck from Justin Braun and accelerated past a defender before sliding a pass across to Patrick Marleau, who had joined the attack to create an odd-man rush. San Jose’s all-time franchise player skillfully redirected the puck on net from his skates and beat Dustin Tokarski.
From there, the Sharks played a strong game and their captain took care of all further scoring. Pavelski redirected a Braun floater past Tokarski early in the second and then received Thornton’s pass from behind the net and moved it to a wide-open Zubrus when the defenders collapsed for a backhand goal that showed the veteran’s patience.
Montreal came back to score when P.K. Subban advanced the puck from Nathan Beaulieu to Dale Weise for a goal late in the second and had 10 of the 12 shot attempts in a push over the last 5:39 of the third, but only got four of those shots on net through (allowing none) San Jose’s defenders. The biggest difference was in net, where Martin Jones was spectacular while Tokarski had to be pulled and Mike Condon only had to make six saves.
The event summary is decidedly tilted toward the Canadiens as most of the gameplay was: 27-25 faceoffs, 16-14 giveaways, 5-5 takeaways, 27-18 shots, 68-38 attempts. The Sharks defended well, however: 38-18 hits and 28-11 blocks, meaning both statistics were better even when adjusted for the increased time defending.
San Jose climbs above .500 with the win, good enough for second place in the Pacific Division so far this 2015-16 NHL season. A win in the next visit Thursday with the Toronto Maple Leafs will help to put the six-game losing streak in the past—and maybe the team reconnect with the confidence of the six-game sweep on its last road trip.