Nieto: 'It's a great way to end the road trip'
Alex Stalock saved 21 of 23 shots in the Sharks' 4-2 win in New Jersey Sunday. (USATSI)
Joe Pavelski is the NHL’s leading goal-scorer since the calendar turned to 2014, but he proved on Sunday against the Devils he’s still pretty good at setting them up, too.
Pavelski earned the primary assist on Raffi Torres’ game-tying goal in the second, and set up Matt Nieto in the third period to help the Sharks to a 4-2 win over the Devils at Prudential Center.
Nieto’s held up as the game-winner. Pavelski froze defenseman Marek Zidlicky and goalie Cory Schneider in the slot before moving the puck to Nieto, and Nieto ripped it high past Schneider at 6:20 of the final frame.
Just before the goal, Alex Stalock was credited with five saves in less than a minute. He earned his 10th win with 21 saves.
Patrick Marleau put the game away with his 25th marker. Tommy Wingels’ aggressive forecheck resulted in a turnover, while Marleau scooped up the loose puck before releasing a low laser past Schneider with 2:25 to go.
The Sharks finished a three-game road trip coming out of the Olympic break with two wins in three games (2-1-0). A four-game homestand begins Tuesday.
A scoreless first gave way to a back-and-forth second period in which each team scored twice.
Logan Couture got it started at 3:26. After Wingels harassed Cory Schneider behind the New Jersey goal, Jason Demers gathered it in at the point. His shot rebounded to Couture for the center’s 17th goal and third in the last three games since returning from a hand injury.
New Jersey responded to tally twice in taking a lead, though. Justin Braun was unable to tie up Adam Henrique a little more than a minute after Couture’s goal, and Henrique deposited it a pass from the wall by Steve Bernier. The Devils went ahead at 14:22, when Patrik Elias tipped in a shot-pass from Jon Merrill, as Elias got position on Scott Hannan at the side of the net.
A beautiful two-on-one tied it at 15:54. James Sheppard, from behind his own blue line, found Torres charging ahead into the offensive zone. Torres slipped it to Pavelski to his left, and Pavelski deftly redirected the puck back to Torres for an easy tap in. Torres, who did not play Friday in Buffalo as the team eases him back in from major knee surgery, scored his third goal in two games.
Each goaltender made some impressive stops in a fast-paced first period. Stalock denied Jaromir Jagr a couple times, and later blocked Dainius Zubrus on a breakaway with 12 minutes to go.
Schneider held the fort on Nieto and Joe Thornton on a pair of chances in front of the net with about 11 minutes to go. His best save of the game came late in the second with the game tied at 2-2, when he gloved Sheppard’s chance from the slot with 1:42 to go before intermission.
The Sharks played their third game of 11 straight against Eastern Conference teams coming out of the Olympic break.
The Sharks had just one power play, failing to score on New Jersey’s top ranked unit. The penalty kill was strong, and had to fight off four Devils advantages, including two in the third period.
Stalock made his second start in the last three games, as it looks more and more like the Sharks’ are platooning him with the inconsistent Antti Niemi in net.
Schneider allowed four goals on 22 shots, and was playing the Sharks for the first time since last season’s first round of the playoffs when he was still with Vancouver. Martin Brodeur played in the first game between the two teams on Nov. 23, a 2-1 Sharks win.
Mike Brown and Adam Burish were the Sharks’ scratches. All four lines were shaken up by coach Todd McLellan, including Brent Burns getting dropped to a third line with Sheppard and Marty Havlat to start the game. Later, Torres ended up on the third line in place of Havlat, who was dropped to the fourth line with Andrew Desjardins and Tyler Kennedy.
Nieto returned after sitting out Friday.
Devils forward Ryane Clowe played against the Sharks for the first time since San Jose traded him to the New York Rangers last season. Clowe, who signed a five-year, $24 million deal with New Jersey in the offseason, was scoreless with three shots, four hits and a -1 rating.
The Sharks have 20 games left in the regular season, 12 of which are at home, where they are 22-4-3. A four-game homestand begins on Tuesday against Carolina, and continues with Pittsburgh on Thursday, Montreal on Saturday and Toronto on March 11.