Highlights: Sharks explode out of break
PHILADELPHIA – After competing for Team USA in the Olympics, Joe Pavelski said he felt good in the first game after the NHL’s break. The result was his second career hat trick, and second of the season, in a 7-3 Sharks win against the Flyers.
Conversely, Logan Couture admitted he wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders, having not played since early January with a hand injury. He still managed to pump in two goals, though.
Raffi Torres, well, he must have been running on pure adrenaline, making his season debut from a knee injury suffered in the preseason. He gave the Sharks an early 1-0 lead, and then basically sealed Philly’s fate with a goal with 2.2 seconds to go in the second period, making it a 6-2 San Jose edge.
Overall, it was a near perfect night for the Sharks in Season Opener 2.0, after they had scored just nine times in their previous seven games before the Olympics.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks return from break with 7-3 win over Flyers]
“We haven’t put up that many goals in a long time,” Todd McLellan said. “You have to add games up to get seven.”
The Sharks had to make some adjustments at the first intermission, as they actually trailed 2-1 after 20 minutes. They had zone time in the Flyers’ end, but only generated five shots.
That all changed in the second. The Sharks scored five straight times on 16 shots, several of which came from just outside the goal crease.
“We finally started to shoot the puck,” Couture said of the second period reversal. “First period we weren’t shooting. We were playing in their end, but we weren’t shooting the puck. Second period we fired 16 shots. That’s more the way that we play, and the way that we need to play. A lot of our goals were off of rebounds. That’s how you score in this league.”
Pavelski somewhat surprisingly stayed on the Joe Thornton-Brent Burns line, despite numerous suggestions from team brass that the Sharks are at their strongest when he’s the third line center.
McLellan looked like a genius leaving him up top, though, and Pavelski now sits tied for second in the NHL in goals with Team USA linemate Phil Kessel at 32. He tied the game with a power play goal in the second period, gave the Sharks a 3-2 lead less than six minutes later, and completed the hat trick at 14:10 after Couture’s first marker.
“It felt pretty good. It’s nice to score early in that second, it gives you a little boost for whatever reason, and makes you feel good about your game,” Pavelski said. “That was nice to kind of contribute early there.”
McLellan said: “At this point, it’s common sense to put him [on the Thornton line]. He’s hot. … We like him where he is. It doesn’t mean that we won’t go three deep at some point, but very effective up there.”
Torres’ two goals came in just eight minutes and 26 seconds of ice time, a team low, as he will apparently get eased back into the fray. He played on a fourth line with Andrew Desjardins and Mike Brown.
Even though the Sharks squandered the lead his goal provided just 4:25 into the game, McLellan indicated the bench got a lift from seeing him find success so early into his return.
“That’s what happens when you’re family, or you’re on a team, you get excited for those kind of guys,” said the coach. “He’s had five-and-a-half months of coming in and seeing the trainers, the doctors, the therapy. To go out and get rewarded like that was a boost not only for our team, but for him. He had a little sparkle in his eye.”
Torres said: “It’s a good feeling to get on the board early like that. And as a line, those guys made it easy. … It’s simple hockey, just getting pucks deep and going to work, and that’s how you get better.”
Overall, the Sharks have won four of their last five games. Anaheim is five points ahead in the Pacific Division, and both teams have 22 games remaining.
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If players like Couture and Torres continue to improve in their returns, and Pavelski stays as hot as he’s been since the start of the calendar year, it will bode well for the stretch run.
It’s certainly off to a good start.
“We had some good looks throughout the team, and then you look at a couple of goals, they were just going in tonight,” Pavelski said.