Commitment to defense helps Sharks past Montreal

Couture scores twice as Sharks blank Canadiens

Commitment to defense helps Sharks past Montreal
October 26, 2013, 7:45 pm
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 The Sharks had a substantial edge in zone time outshooting Montreal 35-22 in Saturday's 2-0 win. (USATSI)

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MONTREAL – The importance of playing that proverbial 60-minute game was never more evident than in the Sharks’ loss in Boston on Thursday, when they surrendered the game-winning goal with less than a second in regulation after a final shift of lackadaisical play.

Perhaps that early season lesson will pay dividends in the future for the Sharks, who played a near perfect road game in beating the Canadiens at Bell Centre on Saturday night, 2-0. Logan Couture scored twice and Antti Niemi made 22 saves for his second shutout in three games.

[Instant Replay: Couture's two goal night leads Sharks past Canadiens]

Goals are now suddenly at a premium – the Sharks have just three total in their last three games – but the team seemingly did all of the little things right and made finding space difficult for a speedy Montreal club. Consequently, San Jose earned its ninth win in 11 games (9-1-1).

“This is the first time we’ve had to put the breaks on a loss. The response from our group was excellent,” Todd McLellan said. “We could have hung our heads and pouted from what happened in Boston.”

Couture said: “That was a tough loss (in Boston), but we didn’t let it get to us. We got over it quickly, moved on, and got ready for tonight. That was really important and big for us.”

Other than score goals in bunches like they were early on, the Sharks continued to do what has given them the NHL’s best record through the first three and a half weeks. They had a substantial edge in zone time and outshot Montreal 35-22, played strong team defense in front of a steady and at times spectacular Niemi, and were on the power play much more than the penalty kill.

In fact, the Sharks have now been on the power play for more than a half hour (30 mintues and 56 seconds) as compared with time killing penalties. That leads the league by a wide margin, as second place Chicago has an advantage of almost 18 minutes.

On Saturday, the Sharks had the first four power plays, and even though the first three weren’t very effective, they capitalized on a pretty passing play at 6:20 of the second when Couture redirected in a Joe Thornton pass to open the scoring.

“Our first three power plays, we were sloppy. We weren’t sharp,” Couture said. “The puck was bouncing on us, and we weren’t ourselves. Even the fourth one was a little sloppy, but people were able to find a way.”

McLellan gave his perspective of his team’s substantial difference in the power play over penalty kill stat.

“I think there’s two factors to that. One, is the speed offensively and the ability to stay on top of teams. Teams get tired, they tend to take penalties. And then secondly, being pretty sound positionally in the defensive zone. You don’t have to reach and hook and hold. Your positional play and your good sticks help you that way.”

Marc-Edouard Vlasic said: “We’re using our speed. We’re on the forecheck. When you’re in the [offensive] zone all game, they have to take penalties eventually.”

Vlasic made biggest defensive play of the game to keep the Sharks’ 1-0 lead intact. David Desharnais was about to deposit a loose puck rebound off of the end boards, but Vlasic quickly got his stick in the way late in the second period.

“He was trying to score, and I just got my stick there. Simple as that,” Vlasic said. “I knew what he was trying to do, I just knocked it away before he could do it.”

That allowed Couture to get a huge insurance marker in the third, when he took advantage of an awkward bounce off of the glass after a Patrick Marleau rim. Surprisingly, McLellan revealed that was somewhat by design.

“That’s where we needed to put it. We talked about that before the game. You could see even in the third, [Carey Price] likes to come out and play the puck. When it’s up on the glass, it doesn’t matter what rink you’re in, you can’t trust it.”

Couture received a slash to the hands from P.K. Subban, but still managed to record his 14th career two-goal game.

“Broken nail, that’s what it was,” Couture said. “But, I was able to battle through for the next ten minutes.”

The Sharks will move on to Ottawa on Sunday for the second half of their first back-to-back of the season. If they continue to play the way they did on Saturday, they won’t need to break the scoreboard to be successful.

“We played patient enough to wait for our breaks,” McLellan said. “Defensively, it was a full team commitment.”