DETROIT, MI Whether the Sharks want to admit it or not, and even though its early in the year, theres still something special about beating the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.
Against what is perhaps their biggest rival, the Sharks used a breakaway goal by Joe Thornton and then an empty-netter by the captain to claim a 4-2 victory in Detroit - their fourth straight regular season win here. The Sharks remain perfect on their road trip (4-0), and moved two games over .500 for the first time this season (5-3-0).
It was, in all probability, the biggest win of the young season.
Just because they are an elite team and they are competitive, coming in and getting a win does feel nice, said Patrick Marleau, who had a goal and an assist. That said, its always a hard-fought game.
Two good teams just going at it, said Thornton.
The names on the score sheet were familiar ones. Along with the pair from Thornton and one from Marleau, Ryane Clowe scored a power play goal in the second period for the Sharks. Detroits goals came from Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom.
In a game with two teams that are so narrowly matched, it often comes down to who makes the biggest blunder. Thats what happened to Detroit on Thorntons breakaway goal at 18:18 of the second period that broke a 2-2 tie.
Joe Pavelski played a wrap around pass around the boards from Marleau, and quickly wheeled and found Thornton all alone, streaking down the middle of the ice. Ian White, Dan Cleary and Nicklas Lidstrom all somehow lost track of the Thornton, and he fired it through the five hole of Jimmy Howard for what ended up being the game-winner.
Thornton actually turned around once he received the pass, probably out of shock that he could be left so alone.
I saw Pav grab the puck and I just bolted out, Thornton said. I was a zone and a half away from everybody. I dont know how I got that open.
McLellan joked that he was just happy to see one of the games best passers fire the puck.
It was nice to see Jumbo shoot it, he had nobody to pass to. But he did look behind him, which worried me, said the head coach.
Thornton and Marleau werent the only ones putting up multiple-point nights, though. Marty Havlat registered two more assists, and now has five in four games with the Sharks.
Hes the first San Jose player to register an assist in his first four games with the club since Thornton did it in eight straight in December 2005.
Marty had his best night as a Shark, in my opinion, said McLellan. Very slippery on the ice and very smart with the puck. Logan Couture and Clowe benefited from it. The trust between him and I, and him and his teammates, is growing on a daily basis.
Havlat helped the Sharks even the game in the second period after Zetterberg had given Detroit the lead in the first. On a Sharks power play, Marc-Edouard Vlasic threw the puck towards the slot, and it ended up bounding onto Havlats stick. Havlat quickly backhanded it to his left to an open Clowe, who easily fired in his third goal of the year at 2:10 of the middle frame.
San Jose took its first lead when Marleau outraced former teammate White to a puck that was tossed high into the zone off of the glass by Douglas Murray. Marleau was able to chip the bouncing puck past the glove hand of Jimmy Howard at 7:57 of the second.
Dougie got a play off the glass and out, and just a couple pretty fortunate bounces on my side, said Marleau. Unfortunately for Whitey, it bounced over his stick there. I was just able to get it for a split second and get a shot off.
Holmstrom re-tied the score with a deflection of a shot by Pavel Datsyuk at 14:44 of the second on the power play, but was all Detroit would get past Niemi, who finished with 30 saves.
The Sharks' goalie, making his fifth straight start, was a bit fortunate in the first period when an apparent goal by Holmstrom was waved off as the referee ruled incidental contact. That would have made it 2-0, Red Wings.
Niemi was asked if he thought the call was legitimate, or if he felt the Sharks caught a break.
A little of both, he said. Youve gotta be lucky when you get one waved off.
McLellan made a couple tweaks to his lineup, both before the game and during it. Colin White played after a two-game absence, paired with Justin Braun as the third defense pair.
Forwards Andrew Desjardins, Benn Ferreiro and Jamie McGinn did not see the ice at all in the third period, as McLellan shortened his bench. Michal Handzus skated between Brad Winchester and Andrew Murray for the second half of the game.
Halfway through the night I wasnt overly pleased with a couple guys, McLellan explained. I thought they could make a bigger difference in the game, and rewarded some others that were going well. It will allow us to make some changes Saturday, and look at getting some better efforts out of a few people.
That was the lone blemish on the night. For now, mark it down as another win for the Sharks in one of the best matchups the NHL has to offer.
We always enjoy playing them and they always enjoy playing us, and its been a pretty good rivalry over the years, said Thornton.
Odds and ends: Torrey Mitchell and Jim Vandermeer were the scratches for San Jose, but look for Mitchell to get back in the lineup on Saturday against the Islanders Niemi may get the night off on Saturday for the second of back-to-back games. Thomas Greiss has not played since a 4-2 loss to St. Louis on Oct. 15. The Sharks won just 20 of 54 faceoffs. San Jose was 1-for-3 on the power play, and 3-for-4 on the penalty kill.