Niemi skunks Bruins, Sharks 2-0 on road trip

February 5, 2011, 8:20 pm
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Kevin Kurz

BOSTON As the top two teams in the NHL in shots on goal, and with both offenses firing on all cylinders lately, the Sharks-Bruins Saturday afternoon matchup at TD Garden was primed to be an end-to-end affair with scoring chances aplenty.Or, maybe not.San Jose managed just 18 shots, a season low, and Logan Couture scored the only non-empty net goal of the game in a 2-0 Sharks victory. It extends their streak to 7-0-1 in the last eight games, and they have won the first two games on their seven-game road trip. The win also moved the Sharks into a tie for fourth place in the Western Conference with 62 points, just three behind Dallas for the Pacific Division lead, pending Saturday night's action.
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While Couture coming through with a big goal is nothing new, the circumstances of his solid play were. The rookie was thrown onto a newly christened line with players that werent even wearing teal a month ago, as forwards Kyle Wellwood and Ben Eager skated on either side of Couture in what was San Joses most energetic and effective line of the afternoon.That may not be saying a whole lot considering the other forward lines were pretty ineffective, but its a good sign nonetheless, and Couture was pleased with their chemistry.Wellwood really can make plays with his patience and his vision. He found me a couple times where I could have scored, he said. Eager is a big body down low and he can control the play, and hes good on the forecheck.We had some good movement, and carried the play in their end a few times, Wellwood agreed. We got some pucks at the net, and against a team like Boston on the road, thats hard to do.Coutures goal didnt come with his new linemates, though it came on the power play, an area in which the Sharks have been thriving during their recent run of success.He took a pass from Ryane Clowe and patiently waited for daylight before backhanding the puck past Tim Thomas at 7:22. The Sharks power play is an impressive 9-for-28 in the last nine games (32.1 percent).That was all of the scoring in the game until Devin Setoguchis goal with 2.1 seconds left with Thomas pulled for an extra attacker.While the Sharks were struggling to put the rubber on net, the Bruins werent doing much better. Boston was playing for the first time since a six-goal explosion in Thursday's emotional win over Dallas, which featured three fights in the first four seconds of the game.
REWIND: Bruins outslug Stars for 6-3 victory
Perhaps suffering from an emotional hangover, the Bruins lacked energy and cohesion from the start. The few scoring chances they did get, Antti Niemi was there to turn them aside in recording his third shutout of the season.Todd McLellan used one word when asked about Niemi, who was making his eighth straight start.Solid, said the coach. He saw the puck, made the first save, and was there when we he had to take care of the second. He made the team in front of him feel very comfortable.Dan Boyle, who played a game high 24:25, thinks the teams defense as a whole is trending upward.Were trying to become a better defensive team than we have in the first half, and its a combination of guys blocking shots, and defensemen doing a better job in front of the goalie, he said. Tonight our offensive game was not very good, but defensively we were pretty strong.With San Jose riding its hot streak, McLellan decided to leave his top two lines alone despite Coutures return, meaning that Clowe skated with Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski while Joe Thornton was with regulars Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau.While Couture was busy generating scoring chances, Eager, in particular, found himself the center of attention a few times in the game. The big winger dropped the gloves with Bostons Adam McQuaid early in the second (and picked up an extra roughing minor in the process), but it was his contact with the Bruins goaltender later in the period that led to the most controversial call of the afternoon.With the Sharks applying pressure in the Boston zone, Eager tried to establish position in front of the goal crease. He bumped shoulders with Thomas right before a shot by Douglas Murray from the faceoff circle found the far top corner of the net. Referee Dennis LaRue immediately waived off the goal at 7:37 due to incidental contact.The explanation that Dennis gave me was exactly how I saw it in the video, said McLellan. Its a decision he has to make instantly, he went with it, and we have to live with it.Fortunately for the Sharks it didnt end up being a factor in the outcome, and a win in a tough building against a division leader is in the books.The Sharks resume their road trip on Tuesday night in Washington against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals.Were in fourth place now, so its not a bad position to be in, said Thornton. Were chugging along pretty well.