DALLAS The Sharks scored twice on the power play and Antti Niemi was outstanding in net once again, as San Jose beat the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center on Saturday night, 4-1.
The much-maligned San Jose penalty-killing unit, which entered the game dead last in the NHL, killed off all three Dallas power plays in helping the Sharks take over the top spot in the Pacific Division for the first time this season. The Sharks, Kings and Coyotes each have 23 points, but San Jose has one more win and fewer games played than both Los Angeles and Phoenix.
Dallas entered the night with a scoreless streak of more than 147 minutes, and San Jose withstood an early push from the Stars before Brent Burns tallied on the power play at 4:58 of the first period. It was downhill from there for Dallas, which got exceedingly frustrated as the game progressed. Logan Couture scored a power play goal in the second period, Brad Winchester tallied later in the frame, and Jamie McGinn added one in the third as the Sharks took over after Burns goal.
Mike Ribeiro ended the streak at 194:11 with a goal at 6:22 of the third period, but that was all the Stars would get past Niemi, who finished with 30 saves.
Nemo played well again, especially early in the game when we were trying to find our way, said McLellan. They were coming hard and they had a really good forecheck."
The Stars had numerous chances to score early. On a power play with Douglas Murray in the box just after the Sharks had just taken the lead, Niemi made impressive saves on a Toby Petersen redirection and two attempts from Michael Ryder in the faceoff circle. Later, he stopped Loui Eriksson from the slot to maintain the 1-0 lead through the first period.
Dallas had another great scoring chance when Ryder broke in all alone during a four-on-four situation in the second period with the Sharks up, 3-0. Ryder fired a wrist shot from just above the hash marks, but Niemi flashed his glove and snagged the puck, freezing play.
Niemi, who made 40 saves in a 5-2 win over Detroit on Thursday, has won his last four starts. He's given up two goals or less in each of them.
As with most Sharks-Stars matchups, the animosity was evident. In the second period there were two fights just two seconds apart, when Krys Barch fought with Jim Vandermeer and Eric Nystrom dropped the gloves with McGinn. The Stars were likely attempting to change the momentum of the game, but it didnt do them any good as Winchesters goal came just 37 ticks after the second fight.
I think frustration was setting in for them. I think we did a pretty good job not reacting too much to it, said Vandermeer, playing in his first game since Nov. 3. Obviously, we have to defend ourselves out there. We came back strong and scored a goal right away.
Late in the third, with the game essentially decided, more emotions bubbled over. Ryane Clowe gave Stephane Robidas a whack with his stick after Robidas was pushing and shoving with Joe Thornton, and Clowe later had a big-time bout with Barch.
At the end of that tussle, Barch was seen pointing and yelling in the direction of Clowe and the Sharks bench. Clowe said later that he was yelling at Barch for starting a fight with him at the end of his shift, while Barch was just stepping onto the ice.
I dont know if Id chase someone down in that situation, said Clowe. Youre at the end of youre shift, but it happens. Im sure I might have done that before as well, but I dont usually turn down a challenge.
Clowe sensed an aggravated Dallas team that has now lost five straight games after starting 11-3-0.
We had a real great second period, controlled the play and they were getting frustrated, he said. Theyve got guys that even when you leave them alone, you dont know what theyre going to do. They like to continue to push the envelope, and we answered the bell well.
The Sharks took advantage of a Nicklas Grossman holding call to take the early lead. Thornton was positioned down low, and stopped a pass from Patrick Marleau with his skate. The captain quikcly threaded a pass between the legs of Trevor Daley to a changing Burns, who tapped his fourth goal of the season into an open net at 4:58 of the first period.
San Jose made it 2-0 early in the second. Couture pounced on a fortunate bounce off of Sheldon Sourays skate as the puck squirted to the side of the net, where he flipped it over the shoulder of Andrew Raycroft at 1:23.
The Sharks fourth line contributed its second goal in as many games when Winchester took advantage of a Dallas turnover in its own zone and wristed it past Raycroft at 4:52 of the second period. Winchester scored his first goal on Thursday against the Red Wings.
McGinns marker at 4:34 of the third period put the game away, making it a four-goal cushion. The only thing that had to be decided at that point was whether or not the Stars would end their scoring drought, which they did on Ribeiros wrist shot through traffic.
The Sharks would have liked to get their first shutout of the season for Niemi, regardless of the Stars futility, but it wasnt to be.
It would have been nice for Nemos sake. I dont really pay attention to what theyre doing, but Nemo played great and it would have been nice to get him the zero, said Thornton.
Still, the Sharks won for the 10th time in their last 13, and sixth time in their last seven road games.
It took us seven or eight minutes to kind of get in the game but once we did, we got our legs, said Thornton. And the night was over.
Odds and ends: Colin White and Justin Braun were the scratches for the Sharks. Dan Boyle broke his stick three times during the night. The Sharks visit Colorado on Sunday evening. San Jose has outscored the opposition 28-11 in the second period. There was a total of 100 penalty minutes in the game, 53 by Dallas. Thornton and Patrick Marleau had two assists each. Jason Demers was a game-high 2.