Marleau: We have a long way to go but everything looks good right now
VANCOUVER – It was probably their toughest game of the nascent season so far, but the Sharks still managed to come away with another three-goal margin of victory, beating the Canucks 4-1 at Rogers Arena on Thursday night.
San Jose is a perfect 4-0-0, and three of its four wins have been 4-1 finals. The lone exception was a 9-2 dismantling of the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.
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On Thursday, the Sharks had to rely on their defense and goaltender much more than in the previous three. They were up to the task, especially Antti Niemi, who looks like a carbon copy of the netminder that was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season. Niemi made 25 saves, several of them difficult, and has a 1.25 goals-against average and .945 save percentage to go with his league-leading four wins.
“Nemo, he’s been awesome all year,” said Joe Thornton, who had two assists. “He allowed one tonight, so it gives us a real good chance to win every night. Early on he was standing tall for us. Big effort from him.”
It took Niemi six minutes to see a single shot on goal, as the Sharks came out applying good pressure early, especially from the Thornton line. The shot was a difficult one, too, as Alex Edler blasted it from the top of the circle after getting behind the Sharks’ defense on a dawdling line change.
Niemi smothered it, not allowing a rebound.
“You’ve just got to be focused and not think about it, and follow the game,” Niemi said of not seeing early action. “But, of course it’s harder that way.”
His best save came in the second period, when he quickly moved from side to side in denying Henrik Sedin on a wraparound attempt that looked destined for the back of the net.
Niemi said, “I just wanted to be almost inside the net so they couldn’t shoot it off my skates or off my pads. A little bit of luck, actually.”
The one goal he did allow happened soon after that save, on a perfect redirection by Mike Santorelli, to cut the Sharks’ two-goal lead in half. But Patrick Marleau’s third goal a minute and a half later gave San Jose its cushion back, and the Canucks never found a way to get closer.
“Those shifts after a goal for or against are big, trying to get that momentum back,” Marleau said. “It’s one of those things we should talk about and do, and I think we’ve been able to do it so far.”
The Sharks also continued their trend of getting goals from different lines. Matt Pelech was the surprise contributor on Thursday, flipping a shot over Roberto Luongo’s shoulder with about a minute left in the first period to make it 2-0.
Pelech was recalled from Worcester on Wednesday after he was reassigned immediately following the first Sharks-Canucks game on Oct. 3. His first career goal in his ninth career NHL game brought with it an enthusiastic fist pump.
“It felt awesome,” said Pelech, whose uncle is Canucks general manager Mike Gillis. “It was a real good feeling to see that cross into the net.”
Overall, the Sharks have 10 different players that have scored at least one goal. Balanced, even-strength scoring has been the key to team’s second scorching start in as many seasons.
“I think we’ve been getting it from everybody, and when they’re not scoring, they’re at least creating some momentum,” McLellan said. “The [fourth] line, I think they got seven or eight minutes of ice time tonight, but they made their ice time count and that’s real important for our team to have success.”
Thornton said: “We’re winning by community right now.”
The Sharks secured their first road win, after finishing 24th in the NHL last season away from home. To close it out, they had to withstand some sustained pressure in the third period from Vancouver before Brent Burns’ empty-netter.
Niemi gave credit to his defense.
“They really didn’t get too much action close to the net,” he said.
“I think it was close to being a full package. Good road game; the way we want to play.”