SAN JOSE – When the Sharks resume their season on Feb. 27 in Philadelphia, Friday night’s 3-2 home win over the Columbus Blue Jackets will be a distant memory.
Still, with their second straight victory and third in the last four games, the Sharks have positioned themselves nicely going into the Olympic break. They are still within reach of the Pacific Division title with 80 points, five behind Anaheim, and it would take a complete collapse for them not to make the postseason.
Perhaps most importantly, the team will have some key players back in the lineup by the end of the month, like Raffi Torres and Logan Couture, and some banged up players such as Tyler Kennedy and Dan Boyle, who was dealing with a thumb injury for the last five games to go along with his early season concussion.
“We’re 80 points at the Olympic break. We would have been probably pleased with that at the beginning of the season considering some of the players we lost throughout the year,” Todd McLellan said. “We go into the break satisfied. Coming out of it, we have work to do.”
Joe Thornton said: “You feel the atmosphere now. Guys are excited for the break. It’s always nice to win before things like this, or Christmas. The guys will enjoy the break and come back ready to work for the second half.”
Despite losing another key player to injury in Matt Nieto on Wednesday against Dallas, the Sharks played perhaps their most complete game in two weeks to close out their pre-Olympic schedule. San Jose outshot the Blue Jackets 47-21 for the game, and Columbus’ only two goals were positively gift wrapped on turnovers from Thornton in the first period and Jason Demers in the third.
Yes, the power play continued to be a comedy of errors, taking an 0-for-5 and looking ugly in the process, but the Sharks controlled the majority of the rest of the game. They killed off all four of Columbus’ power plays.
“The Philadelphia game (a 5-2 loss Monday) kind of tweaked us a little bit, and we got the competitive juices going again,” McLellan said. “We played competitive tonight. I thought we were good in a lot of areas, gifted them a couple of goals obviously, off our tape and onto theirs. Liked our five-on-five play, liked the penalty kills, so good to go into the break that way.”
The Sharks got another goal from Wingels, his second in as many games after he had just one in his previous 23, that held up as the game-winner. The burly forward plowed his way to the net to knock in a loose puck that Demers had directed towards goalie Sergei Bobrovsky at 5:11 of the third period, giving the Sharks a 3-1 cushion.
“Tommy’s goal was something that we hadn’t got in awhile with a rebound goal,” said Patrick Marleau, who broke out of a scoring slump himself with a first period goal. “It was nice to see getting those second and third opportunities going in.”
Nieto’s replacement also got on the board, as John McCarthy scored his first of the season after the team waived him last weekend and reassigned him to Worcester after he went unclaimed.
“It’s been a long time, and it felt really good to get one,” said McCarthy, who went 73 games and 1190 days between NHL goals.
McLellan said: “It’s nice to see him get the offense. He’s been very responsible defensively and a very good penalty killer for us lately, but to get the offense has to make him feel good.”
The line of McCarthy, James Sheppard and Bracken Kearns – three players that could conceivably not be in the lineup by the time the Sharks resume their season – had an effective game, as did the Wingels – Joe Pavelski – Marty Havlat trio. All but four players on the Sharks had at least one shot on goal, and two of them, Sheppard and Scott Hannan, registered assists.
Now, all but four Sharks players will get a chance to enjoy some down time before practice resumes on Feb. 19. Antti Niemi, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Pavelski and Marleau will head to the Olympics this weekend.
The rest and recovery period should be beneficial for everyone else.
“We're happy with where we're at now, and we're going to try to catch Anaheim,” Wingels said.