SAN JOSE – Early on in their match against the Canadiens, the Sharks looked to be suffering from a bit of a hangover after what was arguably the most exhilarating win of the season two nights earlier.
Montreal wasn’t any better, showing the effects of playing in the final game of a long road trip.
Eventually, San Jose found its game. The Canadiens never did.
Tommy Wingels scored twice, and Matt Nieto and Logan Couture also lit the lamp in a 4-0 shutout of Montreal, which concluded a four-game West Coast roadie with one shootout win and three regulation defeats.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks dominate Canadiens in 4-0 win]
The Sharks won their second straight, and sixth in the last eight overall (6-1-1).
Todd McLellan said: “The first period wasn’t an impressive period on our behalf, by any means. … We talked about it between periods, we adjusted, started to put pucks in the areas that we needed to, and just gained momentum as the night went on. Our game grew as the clock kept ticking.”
“I know if you go in and ask them, they didn’t bring their best game tonight,” said Couture, who finished with three points and a game-high +3 rating. “They’re a good team. We expected them to be better than they were, but it’s a good win for us.”
Despite the lackluster opening frame, the Sharks did have the lead courtesy of Wingels’ awareness coupled with a misplay by goalie Peter Budaj. Typically the back up to an injured Carey Price, Budaj failed to hang on to a blast by Couture from center ice, and Wingels kept charging ahead to poke it past the line two-and-a-half minutes into the contest.
“I think he expected us both to change, and he put it down and I just tried going to the net,” Wingels said. “That’s a fortunate bounce for us.”
The forward made it 2-0 when a Matt Irwin blast deflected off of the inside of his leg early in the second. Canadiens coach Michel Therrien replaced Budaj with rookie Dustin Tokarski to try and awaken his team, but instead it was the Sharks that jumped out of bed.
Matt Nieto’s goal later in the second, and his set up of Couture for the final tally early in the third, capped the scoring.
Lately, Nieto has helped to fill the void left by the injured Tomas Hertl very nicely. His line with Couture and Patrick Marleau – who continues to fly himself since the Olympic break – was the Sharks’ best.
“[Nieto] feels comfortable,” McLellan said. “He fits those two well because he skates so well.”
Nieto said: “I’m kind of reconnecting with those two, and we’re building chemistry. I’m just trying to support those two guys.”
Antti Niemi recorded his second win in as many games, again getting good run support from his teammates, who have nine goals in the past two games. He wasn’t tested too much early, but made some important stops in the second period and preserved the shutout with 10 saves in the third.
The Sharks’ penalty kill fought off all five Montreal advantages in front of their goaltender.
“I think I saw the puck well. They weren't able to get good screens,” Niemi said. “I think our PK was just great again.”
There was a differing opinion between the coach and his players regarding the Sharks’ place in the standings. They are now just four points behind Anaheim for the Pacific Division lead, having played one more game. Overtaking the Ducks would likely prevent a first round matchup against the Los Angeles Kings, who are piling up wins themselves.
[RELATED: NHL standings]
Couture admitted he looks at the gap between his club and its two California rivals.
“I’m sure a lot of guys on this team are, as well,” he said. “We wanted to win our division. That was one of our goals from the start of the year, and we’re close.”
As for McLellan, it’s still a little early to be scoreboard watching, in his view.
“When you start getting to 10, [or] five games left, I think at that point then you can start maybe standings watching a little bit. But, we’ve got a lot of hockey left, and a lot of work to do.”