HIGHLIGHTS -- Niemi sharp in Sharks' season-opening win
Patrick Marleau had two goals while Joe Thornton recorded two assists in San Jose's 4-1 win in Calgary. (AP IMAGES)
CALGARY – The Sharks survived a dismal first period and took over the game in the second on their way to a 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames on Sunday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
The Sharks scored three goals in just over four minutes late in the second period, including two from Patrick Marleau, to seize control of their season opener and move to 1-0-0.
Marleau’s first came on a Sharks power play in the second at 13:52 to tie the game at 1-1, while Marty Havlat buried a rebound of a Marc-Edouard Vlasic shot 73 seconds later to give San Jose its first lead. Marleau’s second from Dan Boyle at 18:10 gave the Sharks a two-goal cushion at the second intermission.
It didn’t start well for San Jose. The Flames outshot the Sharks 16-9 in the first 20 minutes, and the turnover-prone Sharks were lucky to escape down only 1-0. Lee Stempniak was the only one to beat Antti Niemi with a power play goal, while Sven Baertschi hit the post alone in the front of the net with three minutes to go. Mikael Backlund had a breakaway late after streaking through the Sharks’ defense, but it was turned aside by Niemi.
Dan Boyle capped the scoring with a late five-on-three goal. Boyle (1g, 1a), Joe Thornton (2a) and Joe Pavelski (2a) equaled Marleau's two points.
The single biggest weakness of the Sharks last season was their penalty-killing unit, and it got an early test midway through the first period when Havlat went off the ice on an interference penalty. After some decent shorthanded shifts by San Jose, Stempniak scored on a wrist shot from the circle at 12:21 to give the Flames the lead.
The Sharks finally responded with a power play goal of their own to tie it in the second, when Marleau slid in a slick pass from Joe Thornton at 13:52, seven seconds after Chris Butler was sent off the ice on a roughing call. Thornton stripped Calgary defenseman Mark Giordano behind the net before feeding Marleau for the first goal of the season.
The Sharks killed off an early penalty to Havlat to start the third. Niemi made a pad save on Jarome Iginla as the Flames’ power play time expired, and froze the puck about four minutes into the final frame.
Boyle’s slap shot with a minute left and the Sharks on a two-man advantage capped the scoring. The Sharks finished 2-for-5 on the power play and killed off two of three Flames advantages.
Niemi kept the Sharks in the game in the first period, stopping 15 of 16 shots including Backlund’s breakaway and a partial breakaway by Steve Begin with the Flames shorthanded.
The goalie finished with 31 saves in improving to 9-2-1 career against Calgary. His nine wins against the Flames are the most against any team in his career.
Miikka Kiprusoff made 25 saves on 29 Sharks shots in a losing effort.
Adam Burish made his Sharks debut skating on the fourth line, while defenseman Brad Stuart played his first game in teal since the 2005-06 season.
Defenseman Matt Irwin made his NHL debut, skating with Boyle. Frazer McLaren got the nod over James Sheppard as the fourth line winger.
Jason Demers (wrist) and Brent Burns (groin) were the injured scratches.
The Sharks continue a two-game road trip to start the season in Edmonton on Tuesday, in what will be the Oilers’ home opener. San Jose has its home opener on Thursday night against Phoenix to start a six-game homestand.