Friday, February 11, 2011

Sharks Fall to Devils, Win Streak Snapped At Five

The San Jose Sharks continued their lengthy road trip in Newark, New Jersey, where they faced off against the New Jersey Devils, a team that endured many early season woes, but have since compiled an impressive 11-1-2 record over the last fourteen games. The Devils’ effort still placed them near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, still making it nothing short of a miracle to place them in a comfortable playoff position. The spread between the Devils and the Hurricanes, occupants of the eighth place position in the Eastern Conference, still remained in double digits.

For the Devils, in the place of their injured goaltender Martin Brodeur, was Johan Hedberg, and still noticeably missing from the lineup was forward Zach Parise, out with a knee injury for approximately another month. As for the Sharks, the roster remained unchanged since their last game against the Colombus Blue Jackets.

Although both teams stayed off the scoresheet in both goals and penalties for the first period, the Sharks outshot the Devils 12-2. As far as puck control, the Sharks dominated, effectively shutting down all of the Devils’ offensive threats. Fortunately for the Devils, Hedberg stood very tall in net, preventing large rebounds, and cutting off the shot angles for the Sharks’ opportunities.

The second period, although still remaining scoreless, proved to be a much more exciting hockey game. Although the Sharks again had more shots on net, at a 12-9 advantage (bringing the shot total to 24-11), each team executed crafty zone entries and net crashes, almost scoring. Had it not been for the stand up plays from the two netminders, the Devils’ Johan Hedberg and the Sharks’ Antti Niemi, the score would not have been 0-0 after the second period. Both teams’ defensemen also stepped up, in particular the Sharks’ Douglas Murray, who placed a nice highlight reel worthy hit on the Devils’ Tim Sestito. Nearing the end of the second period, the Devils’ Brian Rolston interfered the Sharks’ Devin Setoguchi from back checking, sending him to the box for two minutes.

The Sharks began the third period with a 43 second power play, although they failed to score. Just over six minutes in, Patrick Marleau positioned himself well in front of the net and scored his 21st of the year, finally breaking the 0-0 tie and giving the Sharks the one goal advantage. Not long afterward, the Sharks gained another power play, although it was short-lived as just over twenty seconds later, Joe Thornton received a hooking penalty call, evening the players on the ice. Forty seconds later, Logan Couture managed to get a tripping call in front of Niemi, giving the Devils the one-man advantage.

It did not take long for the Devils to capitalize on their 4 on 3 advantage. Forward Ilya Kovalchuk set teammate Brian Rolston up for a nice one-timer shot in the slot, and it was enough to beat Niemi, bringing the score to 1-1. The score remained 1-1 until just over four minutes left, when Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk took charge of a Devils faceoff win and snapped a wrist shot through Niemi’s five hole to increase the lead to 1-2. Kovalchuk’s shot barely squeezed by an unscreened Niemi, who up until that point, had been playing a solid game.

Although the Sharks made a valiant effort to come back into the game, a Torrey Mitchell high-sticking call that qualified for the four minute double minor status with less than three minutes in the game proved to be the nail in the coffin, as the Sharks failed to equalize, leaving the final score 1-2 Devils.

The Sharks may have lost the game, however it felt great to, in a way, dispel the many inflammatory remarks from Sharks critics and fans alike criticizing the Sharks’ defensive lines. Based on their play the last several games, the Sharks defensive lines have played phenomenally, not allowing opposing team forwards to get a clear shot on net, keeping Niemi from getting screened, and carefully pinching in to assist the forwards in the offensive zone.

Puck control had been firmly in the Sharks’ favor, however without quality shots on net, only one of their 32 shots was enough to beat Hedberg. With quality time spent on improving the Sharks’ offense, their threat to other teams would only increase.

Catch the Sharks on Sunday the 13th as they take on the Florida Panthers at 2:00pm Pacific.

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