Shootouts playing key role in Sharks' ascension

Shootouts playing key role in Sharks' ascension
March 13, 2014, 8:15 pm
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The Sharks pulled even with the Ducks at 93 points, best in the Pacific Division. (USATSI)

If the Sharks manage leapfrog the Anaheim Ducks and win the Pacific Division, their shootout success will have played a gigantic role.

San Jose won its seventh consecutive skills competition on Thursday in Columbus, a 4-3 final, and is now tied with the Ducks with 93 points. Anaheim has played one fewer game, and is well in front in regulation/overtime wins (41 to 33), so the Sharks will have to beat them out cleanly if they want the easier first round playoff matchup.

Against the Blue Jackets, Joe Pavelski was the only player to convert, as the Sharks erased a third period deficit but then surrendered a 3-2 lead of their own in the win.

The Sharks’ 10 shootout wins leads the NHL. They are 10-5 overall, after leading the league with eight wins int the tiebreaker in 2013.

“To get two points, sometimes you have to do it that way,” said Alex Stalock, who is a perfect 3-0 in shootouts this season and has not allowed a goal in 10 breakaways.

“We do a lot in practice, and we see a lot of breakaways in practice. Guys want to do them, and I’ll be in the net. We have fun with it, but I think it helps both ways.”

Ironically, shootouts were sore spot for the team early in the season. The Sharks dropped four of their first five, including a stretch of three in four games from Nov. 2 – 10.

Since then, Stalock and Antti Niemi have been outstanding. Their combined save percentage in a shootout is .755, seventh in the league. 

As for the shooters, Pavelski converted his fifth attempt in 12 tries against Columbus for the game-winner. Logan Couture has seven shootout goals, tied for second in the NHL, although he failed on his try against the Blue Jackets.

Stalock said: “You see the guys that go in practice a bunch, and they have success out in a game. They enjoy it, and it’s good for me. We’ve picked up some extra points this year in the shootouts, that’s for sure.”

As for the overall effort against Columbus, head coach Todd McLellan was pleased with his team’s effort. Prior to Thursday, the Sharks had lost three in a row at Nationwide Arena by a combined 16-5 score.

Columbus is making a strong push for its second-ever playoff appearance, and had won 10 of its previous 12 home games before losing to the Sharks.

“I think they learned from their mistakes in the past,” McLellan said of his club. “That team (Columbus) plays hard. They’re as competitive as there is in the league, they are physical, they have good body position when they enter the zone. Throw a lot of pucks to the net. If we weren’t ready to go, we wouldn’t have come close to getting the results we got tonight.”

The head coach didn’t want to put too much into the Sharks equaling the Ducks in points, despite San Jose trailing by as many as 13 on Jan. 13.

“We’re nowhere near being done. We have 15 [games] left now, that’s 30 points worth,” McLellan said. “That’s a lot of hockey. Satisfaction that we caught them? Yes, but lots of hockey left.”