Familiarity breeding wins for Sharks

HIGHLIGHTS: Sharks roll past Edmonton with six-goal period

Familiarity breeding wins for Sharks
January 22, 2013, 11:45 pm
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Patrick Marleau scored two goals and added an assist, while Joe Thornton chipped in with three assists. (AP)

EDMONTON – All throughout the abbreviated week-long training camp, the prevailing thought was that teams like San Jose, that didn’t make too many changes in the offseason, would have an advantage over teams that were trying to incorporate new players into the lineup or made head coaching changes.

That’s been the case through the first two games. The Sharks have cruised to road wins over the Flames and Oilers, two clubs that made alterations to their roster and replaced their head coaches during the lengthy offseason. San Jose is 2-0-0, having outscored the opposition 10-4 in that pair of victories.

The Sharks’ first power play unit of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Dan Boyle has been virtually unstoppable with five goals already, including three in the 6-3 win over Edmonton on Tuesday.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks 6, Oilers 3]

“It’s paying off right now. When it comes to power play, we’re where we are normally in January,” Todd McLellan said. “That one unit understands what we want to do – a lot of the breakouts, and adjustments we can make quickly on the fly. They’ve worked together for so long that they can make those things happen. It pays off to stick with what’s familiar.”

Thornton said: “We run pretty much the same options on the power play and the same personnel, so we are going to be familiar with each other. It’s going good. We’ve still got to work on some things, but tonight showed that teams will pay if they go in the penalty box against us.”

The Oilers paid early and often. The Sharks scored a pair of power goals just 73 seconds apart from Boyle and Couture to jump out to quick a 2-0 lead, and Marleau’s power play marker at 11:07 made it a 4-1 Sharks lead.

The chemistry has helped more than just on the power play, too, as McLellan kept the Thornton-Marleau-Pavelski top line intact, too. Thornton’s brilliant backhander to Marleau from behind the net, that’s sure to make the highlight reels (at least here in Canada), shows that those two still have a keen awareness of where each other is on the ice.

“Yeah, it was pretty good,” Marleau said of Thornton’s feed. “He had both me and Pav out there, so he knew where he was throwing it. It was a hard pass on his backhand, and I was lucky enough to get my stick down and stop it in time.”

“I just kind of saw Patty in the back of my eye. He was wide open,” Thornton said. “He made a beautiful shot and put it far side. I just saw him real quick and just threw it on him.”

The biggest difference between the wins in Calgary and Edmonton was the Sharks’ first period. They were sloppy and careless in the first 20 minutes against the Flames on Sunday, and were lucky to still be in a position to come back. Against Edmonton, all they did was tie a franchise record with six goals in a single frame, before putting it in cruise control a bit in the second and third.

“We got off to a good start. There was a lot of talk about them skating and taking pace the tempo to us, and we wanted to turn the tables on them a little bit and put pucks in areas where we could use our size,” MeLellan said. “As it turns out, we got on the power play and got a good start on them. You’d like to bottle that up and play the full 60 minutes with it; I don’t think we played the last 40 we wanted to. But, it’s still a work in progress.”

Although goalie Yann Danis held the Sharks off of the scoreboard in the second and third after they chased Devan Dubnyk, there was one particularly encouraging sign late. The penalty kill, which will be under the microscope for the foreseeable future after its struggles last season, came through with a pair of big kills midway through the third period.

The Sharks were clinging to a 6-3 lead, and another marker from Edmonton would have made things interesting. Although they gave up two power play goals earlier, including a five-on-three goal to Justin Schultz, McLellan was encouraged by the PK performance late.

“We made one real evident mistake on the penalty kill early and it’s in our net,” he said of rookie Nail Yakupov’s first career goal in the first period. “That happens in this league. The five-on-three, they make a good play and it’s in, and we’ve got to get better in that area.

“The third period, [we] asked some guys to step up and have real good kills. I thought Brad Stuart was excellent in that situation. That’s what he’s been brought in for.”

The Sharks will return home to play in front of their fans for the first time in more than nine months on Thursday against Phoenix, looking to improve to 3-0-0. They are one of eight NHL teams still without a regular season or overtime/shootout loss.

“It’s what we wanted to do coming to Canada here, two big wins against teams in their home openers who were probably hungry to get off to a good start,” Couture said. “We go back home and have our home opener in front of our fans, and we want to win in front of them.”

McLellan said: “We’ll have a hungry team coming in, in Phoenix, who played us very well last year. The fans have waited a long, long time in San Jose for us to get back in our building and play in front of them. It’s our job to reward them with a good effort and a good game.”

Sharks notes
Thornton (3a), Couture (2g, 1a) and Marleau (2g, 1a) led the way with three points apiece. Pavelski and TJ Galiardi each had two assists. … The Sharks were 37-31 in the faceoff circle. … The Sharks’ five power play goals is a league high, but their 62.5 penalty-kill percentage is just 26th in the league. … The Sharks were outshot 22-14 after the first period. … Jordan Eberle assisted on both Edmonton goals.