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VANCOUVER – It was a successful first game coming out of the bye week for the Sharks, as they won going away against the Canucks at Rogers Arena on Saturday, 4-1. Here are our three takeaways from the evening in British Columbia…
1 – Slow start, strong finish
The league-wide trend of starting slow coming out of the NHL’s newly instituted bye week was on display in the first period, as the Sharks and Canucks played one of the uglier frames of NHL hockey you’ll ever see. San Jose was on its heels early, surrendering the first six shots of the game and looking particularly confused. They didn’t register a single hit in the period, either, which is hard to do.
The Sharks were lucky that Vancouver wasn’t much better, and that Martin Jones – whose performance we focused on in primary the game recap – was looking sharp and well rested.
The message after the scoreless first period, according to coach Pete DeBoer, was just to “try and get better.” That’s what happened.
“We knew it would be a little messy, and it was,” DeBoer said. “Jonesy thankfully was our best player, and gave us a chance to get our legs under us. I thought as the game wore on we got better and better. It wasn’t a pretty win, by any means.”
Chris Tierney said: “After the first 10 minutes [we] started to feel good and then kind of felt back to normal in the second there. It definitely took a little bit. Joner bailed us out in the beginning a couple times. I thought we started to get going in the second and third.”
2 – Standing up for Karlsson
Melker Karlsson was lucky to return in the third period after he took a heavy hit from Joseph Labate. Karlsson had to be helped to the dressing room after the blow, when his head violently snapped back as Labate ran him into the boards in front of the bench.
Micheal Haley pounced on Labate immediately after the incident, earning a two-minute minor that the team was probably happy to kill off. Labate, to his credit, answered the bell in the third period when he was challenged by and fought Brenden Dillon. The Sharks will face the Canucks three more times this season, including on Thursday, so a response to the hit was particularly necessary even if it was clean.
“That sends a good message to the team that everybody has each other’s back,” Mikkel Boedker said of Haley and Dillon’s efforts. “Those guys are real standup guys, and they’ve done it so many times. Every time they do it, it means something special to all of us.”
DeBoer said: “That’s a huge part of our team and our team identity. We’ve got a group that you’re not going to be able to push to of games, and I think we’ve shown that over the last two years here. You don’t even have to say anything, that’s just automatic.”
3 – Avoiding the mumps
Some eyebrows were raised in the press box midway through the game when the Canucks tweeted that defenseman Luca Sbisa would not return with the stomach flu. That’s one of the early warning signs of the mumps, meaning Sbisa could have exposed some Sharks to the virus, which is making its way through the Vancouver dressing room.
“What are you going to do? We’ve just got to cross our fingers and get outta here and hope that he didn’t rub up against anybody,” DeBoer said.
The Sharks coach said after the game that he thought “most of our guys” have had vaccinations, but “I believe there’s a couple that haven’t.”
After the virus invaded several NHL dressing rooms two seasons ago, the Sharks’ training staff will likely be on the lookout for symptoms when the team reconvenes on Monday. Hopefully, the outbreak will begin and end in Vancouver this time.
“Definitely, you want to make sure that you stay away from all that stuff,” Boedker said.
VANCOUVER – One of the more appealing NHL road cities, Vancouver dazzles with its beautiful mountain scenery and walkable downtown avenues.
The Sharks undoubtedly relish those aspects of their trips to British Columbia, but more importantly they’ve enjoyed them on a professional basis, too. San Jose won its 10th straight game at Rogers Arena on Saturday, 4-1, kicking off the final push to the playoffs with a victory coming out of the bye week.
“I think we definitely got better as the game went on, and that’s what you’re looking for,” said Mikkel Boedker, who was one of four Sharks’ goal scorers. “We came out with the win.”
Two Sharks in particular have enjoyed their recent excursions into Vancouver.
Martin Jones was the best player on the ice, making 35 saves in his hometown. He was relied upon early as the Sharks predictably struggled to get their legs underneath them in what was their first game since last Sunday.
Jones made an impressive stop on Loui Eriksson in the first period, and in the second he stopped Jannik Hansen from point blank range with the Sharks holding a 1-0 lead. Later in the second, it was saves on Alex Edler and Hansen again that preserved San Jose’s 2-1 lead at the intermission. Vancouver was outshooting the Sharks 30-16 after 40 minutes, but trailed.
The Sharks rewarded their goalie with scores by Boedker and Logan Couture on the power play to make the final few minutes of the third period relatively easy.
“When [Jones] plays like that it gives us confidence, and we’ve just got to stick with it and keep creating chances, and we did that tonight,” said Boedker, who snapped a 19-game goal drought.
“[Jones] was our best player tonight,” coach Pete DeBoer said.
Jones improved to a perfect 4-0 in Vancouver, all in a San Jose sweater, with a 1.25 goals-against average and .959 save percentage. He spent the bye week in the area, and had several supporters in the stands.
“It’s always fun playing in front of friends and family,” Jones said. “Happy to get the win here.”
Chris Tierney is another player who seems to thrive in Vancouver. He notched a pair of assists and centered the team's most effective line, after getting his first career two-goal game here earlier this month.
His new line, featuring wingers Tomas Hertl and Joel Ward, opened the scoring in the second period, with Hertl finishing off a pass from Tierney after Ward’s breakaway attempt crept just wide of the net. Later, Tierney got a secondary assist on Patrick Marleau’s second period goal, restoring the Sharks' lead at 2-1.
“They did a good job. I thought some of those guys had our better legs early,” DeBoer said of his third line. “It took some of our veteran guys a little longer to get into it.”
Tierney, who was scoreless in eight straight games since his last time at Rogers Arena on Feb. 2, said: “I thought we generated some good chances. I think we can get better, too. We kind of talked on the bench throughout the game of what we can kind of do to improve and where each other is going to be on the ice, but it felt good playing with those guys. It’s easy to create offense with them.”
In seven career games in Vancouver, Tierney has four goals and three assists for seven points.
“Something about the Vancouver air, or Canadian air,” he said. “I always feel good when I play here.”
After dropping a 2-1 overtime decision to Boston in their final game before the break, the Sharks had a five-point lead over the rest of the division headed into a week off. Saturday’s win pushes the lead back up to five points again on Anaheim and Edmonton, and they now have games in hand on both of those teams, too.
It all adds up to a good start in what is the final stretch before the postseason, and a quest for a division title. Overall, the Sharks are 3-0-3 in their last six games, and have just one regulation loss in their last 11 (5-1-5).
“It’s huge, that’s what you play the regular season for,” said Boedker, when asked about the Sharks padding their lead. “You keep trying to gain as many points as you can, and lately we’ve had some overtime losses, but we keep gaining points.”