The San Jose Sharks have reached the midpoint of the 2015-16 NHL season on a three-game winning streak thanks to taking back-to-back games in Western Canada Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 11 and 12. They did not control either the Calgary Flames or Winnipeg Jets, but came away with two regulation wins largely because of the work of the pictured stars.
In fact, San Jose lost the composite statistical battle: 57-78 faceoffs, 11-17 takeaways, 19-51 hits, 45-57 shots and 80-112 attempts. The only statistic of that group they won either night was shots Tuesday in Winnipeg (27-22), and the advantages in both games for giveaways (13-23) and blocks (39-18) are substantially less impressive considering the extra time spent defending—especially marginal advantages against Pacific Division-rival Calgary Monday.
The Sharks got scores from Joe Thornton assisted by Joe Pavelski, then Joonas Donskoi from Brenden Dillon and Chis Tierney in the first period Monday before the Flames answered. Karri Ramo let in a soft, bad-angle goal from Logan Couture in the second but two power plays allowed the hosts to tie the game before Brent Burns one-timer goal on a great feed from Patrick Marleau gave the guests a lead in the third.
Joel Ward got the insurance tally from Burns that became the game-winning goal because Calgary scored on another power play with Ramo pulled in the final four minutes. Martin Jones played better than his numbers would indicate (31 saves on 35 shots for an .886 save percentage) with several fantastic saves, especially late to close out a win important to staying ahead in the Pacific Division.
Alex Stalock had his third good start in eight games this 2015-16 NHL season Tuesday, allowing just one goal on 22 shots (.955 save percentage) and bailing himself out for coming too far from the net on what could have been a game-tying shorthanded goal by drawing a tripping penalty. That penalty would allow San Jose to put the game away.
A shorthanded goal got things going in the first period. A Dustin Byfuglien giveaway led to Tierney on a rush, and Melker Karlsson went to the net to make space for him to put one home from the slot. The Jets answered on the same power play, but the Sharks got the lead back in the final minute when Thornton cleaned up a rebound from Tomas Hertl (robbed of an assist because Connor Hellebuyck was ruled to have handled the puck).
That held until Pavelski one-timed Couture’s pass home from a steep angle on the two-man advantage (Burns got the secondary assist) with 4:01 to go. San Jose was on the power play because Winnipeg’s Tyler Myers received a match penalty for responding to a Tommy Wingels hit with a crosscheck to the head. Finally, Paul Martin and Tierney got assists on Joel Ward’s empty-net tally in the final minute.
The Sharks got the all-important first goal in both games and never trailed in either. They largely won both times because their goalies were better than their counterparts, but also because they got secondary scoring in both.
Those are things San Jose has rarely been able to say this 2015-16 NHL season, but can be said about each of the last three games—all victories. Those wins separate this team from one of the six in the league that are not over .500, but that is good enough for third place in a Pacific Division that is weak.
That puts the Sharks in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. They are a full game better than the Vancouver Canucks with a certain edge in the first tiebreak, with the Anaheim Ducks half a game behind that and the Flames half a game further back. The Edmonton Oilers bring up the rear of the Pacific Division by some margin, needing three games to pass their Alberta rivals because they will almost certainly lose the first tiebreak.
Thanks to its two wins already this week, San Jose can focus on catching the second-place Arizona Coyotes by winning the game in hand and taking their first matchup of the 2015-16 NHL season in regulation later this month. The team can also face its former coach and Edmonton in another Pacific Division showdown Thursday while it is playing its best hockey.