Leaders cap perfect ending to an imperfect game

HIGHLIGHTS: Sharks stage thrilling comeback in home opener

Leaders cap perfect ending to an imperfect game
January 25, 2013, 12:00 am
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Patrick Marleau has two goals in each of his first three games and is tied for second in the league with eight points. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – It wasn’t always pretty, but it sure was exhilarating.

Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau vaulted to the top of the NHL leaderboard in points and goals, respectively, pacing a furious comeback in which the Sharks scored four times in the third period to beat Phoenix, 5-3. The Sharks trailed 3-1 with 10:45 to go in regulation after giving up a pair of quick third period goals, but stormed back to improve to 3-0-0 and grab first place in the Pacific Division in the first NHL game at HP Pavilion in more than nine months.

You want to win back the fans back after a senseless labor stoppage? This was better than even the most sincere apology video, or that free soda with your hot dog and chicken fingers.

Marleau was the hero, scoring the Sharks’ second goal to make it a 3-2 deficit, and then putting them ahead to stay with a wrist shot past Jason LaBarbera with less than two minutes to go.

“I was trying to get it off as quick as possible, and it found its way in,” Marleau said of the game-winner, his sixth goal overall.

It was Marleau’s third straight multi-goal game to start the season, and he’s the first player since Peter Stastny in 1982-83 to achieve that feat.

Thornton’s empty net goal was his first of the season to go along with eight assists, including three more on Thursday.

“We definitely didn’t want it to go to 3-1, but we battled back and competed and ended up winning,” Thornton said. “It wasn’t a good first half of the third, but we finished strong.”

Now for the not-so-good. The Sharks looked lethargic and uninspired after a strong first half of the first period, and only managed two shots on goal in the second. Logan Couture’s power play marker on a deflection late in the first staked them to a 1-0 lead, but Phoenix held the Sharks’ offensive attack at bay from the middle of the first to the middle of the third.

Oh, and the Sharks’ penalty-killing unit allowed another two goals, and has already surrendered five this season. To be fair, the Coyotes’ tying goal in the second period came on a full two-minute five-on-three, after Michal Handzus, Brad Stuart and Douglas Murray nearly killed it off with a magnificent effort.

Phoenix’s power play goal in the third came on a questionable non-call, when Antonie Vermette deposited a loose puck after Shane Doan barreled into Antti Niemi, who got his right pad caught inside the net.

“Our goaltender was taken out on the second one,” McLellan said.

Niether Niemi or McLellan could blame anyone on Phoenix’s third goal, though. A shot from Lauri Korpikoski from a sharp angle had no business beating the goaltender at 7:28 of the third period to give the Coyotes a 3-1 advantage.

“That’s a tough play. I’ve got to watch it on tape. I think he shot it on the ice to the side of the net, and it just bounced there,” Niemi said.

The Sharks didn’t let it get them down, though. Marleau’s second goal on a pass from Thornton brought the 111th straight regular season sellout crowd to life, and the Sharks completed the comeback in regulation with Marty Havlat's tying goal and Marleau's winner. It’s important in that they denied a division rival the extra point for reaching overtime, as every division game in a shortened season is critical.

“Initially, I think there was a little fall-off [after the Coyotes’ third goal], you could feel it, but then guys started to pick themselves up and get going,” MeLellan said. “The second goal was huge. It gave us some hope and momentum. The fact [Phoenix] played the night before and they were a little worn out by the end of the night, we took advantage of that and it worked in our favor.”

Couture said: “Once we get down, there’s still a belief in this team where we can come back from deficits like that. We know the skill and the talent we have and the offensive capabilities of players on this team that we can score goals in bunches like the other night in the first and tonight in the third.”

Marleau was glad the team could pick up Niemi, whose effort in Calgary was the biggest reason that San Jose started its season with a W.

“He’s held us in there all the time, and the very first game this year if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have won,” Marleau said. “You’ve got to take those opportunities when we get a bad bounce like that, to try and get him the win and play well in front of him.”

Despite the noticeable momentum swings and continuing struggles in certain areas of their game, the Sharks are one of just five NHL teams without a loss. The two biggest reasons for that are the men who have been the faces of the franchise for several years running.

McLellan said: “Teams are going to count on their big guys to get the job done, and ours have been producing right now.”

Sharks Notes

The Sharks were 36-26 in the faceoff circle. … Matt Irwin recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Marleau’s first goal. … Joe Pavelski had three assists, and now has seven on the season, good for second in the league behind Thornton. He’s still looking for his first goal. … Pavelski and Logan Couture are tied for fourth in the league in scoring with seven points. Marleau is second with eight (6g, 2a), trailing only Thornton … Couture and Shane Doan had a game-high six shots. … Doan was a -3. … Steve Sullivan was the only multiple-point player for Phoenix, with a goal and an assist. He had a hat trick the night before against Columbus.