Niemi brilliant, Sharks open road trip with shootout victory
DETROIT – From a marketing standpoint, the NHL point system is pretty ingenious. For example, a team that wins just three of its first nine games could still technically have a .500 record with a 3-3-3 mark, including a trio of overtime/shootout losses. It’s easier to promote a team that’s seen as middle-of-the-road than a team that struggles to win games, of course.
In reality, though, the three-point game in today’s NHL, or the “loser’s point,” makes it difficult later in the season to make up ground or leapfrog other teams in the standings. This has been pointed out most recently by Eliotte Freidman, who relays that only three teams four points out of playoff position on Nov. 1 have made the postseason since shootouts were implemented in 2005-06.
It’s just another reason why Sharks head coach Todd McLellan has to be downright overjoyed by his club’s 8-0-1 start, and why it was a topic of discussion in the coach’s office after San Jose’s 1-0 shootout win against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on Monday night.
“We’ll take [points] any way we can get them. We were actually talking after the game how hard it is to pull away, or make up that gap with three-point games,” McLellan said. “We’ve given one up in a shootout (in Dallas last Thursday), it would have been disappointing to give up two within [five] days.”
Now, no one is suggesting the Sharks have already secured a playoff spot before Halloween, especially after what followed the 7-0-0 start last season. But sitting atop the NHL standings with 17 points, and remaining as the only team in the league without a regulation defeat, is wholly encouraging.
Even though it came in a shootout, Monday’s win was significant in that the Sharks showed they could be patient in a game in which the scoring chances were few and far between. They didn’t take any unnecessary chances, were rarely out of position, and goaltender Antti Niemi made the stops when he was needed. The game lacked the action and excitement of their first seven wins, six of which came by at least a three-goal margin, but it was an impressive road victory against a hungry team coming off of a bad defeat.
Most importantly, though, is that it was another two points in the bank in what was the first game of five straight away from SAP Center.
“It’s huge, but nothing is going to come easy,” Niemi said. “We just want to keep playing the same way we’ve played thus far.”
Logan Couture said: “This is an important road trip for our team, and we go into four tough buildings. To get two points right off the bat is nice.”
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Couture saw a whole lot of Pavel Datsyuk on Monday night, as Red Wings coach Mike Babcock seemed to want to get that line, with Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel Alfredsson, out against Couture’s with Patrick Marleau and Tyler Kennedy as much as possible. McLellan, who coached the All-World Datsyuk during his days as an assistant in Detroit, paid his young star a compliment after the game.
“I think Logan has some Pavel qualities, as far as his ability to hold people off, to strip pucks, and it’s nice to see two great hockey players play head-to-head,” McLellan said.
How did Couture approach the matchup?
“When you’re playing against Datsyuk and Zetterberg, you’ve got to be quick. Datsyuk is the best in the world at picking your pocket, so when you get the puck you’ve got to take off. Those first couple strides, you’ve got to get away from them.”