SAN JOSE – It was the best of Clowe, it was the worst of Clowe.
The Sharks’ heart-and-soul, or meat-and-potatoes, or whatever you want to call him, was smack in the middle of the action against Vancouver on Sunday from before the opening puck drop until late in the second period. It started when he defended Logan Couture from Alex Burrows at center ice, resulting in coincidental minors for himself and Burrows, and ended when he was issued 24 minutes in penalties in the final minute of the middle frame.
While Clowe’s presence early – including a rollicking bout with Zack Kassian – was vital in getting the Sharks emotionally involved early, his departure in the second with his team leading 3-1 forced his teammates to kill off four minutes of power play time against one of the more lethal offenses in the NHL.
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“Obviously, we’re not happy about the penalties,” Todd McLellan said, after a 4-1 Sharks win, their fifth straight to open the season. “That’s all I’m going to say about it. I owe Ryane Clowe my conversation, I don’t owe any of you guys (media) my conversation.”
There was an immediate sign that the Sharks-Canucks rivalry was in full swing when Burrows and Couture got nasty with one another before the clock started ticking.
“Burrows tried to put his head into my face, so I just lifted his head up, and he sucker punched me,” Couture said. “Good start to a game.”
That’s when Clowe stepped in to protect the Sharks’ third-year, All-Star forward. And, Couture appreciated it.
“Clowie came in there and scared a couple of their guys away,” he said. “That’s what Clowie does. A lot of those guys talk when Clowie’s not around, and when he comes around, they quiet right up.”
The Sharks, playing for the second straight day, appeared to use the early shenanigans to their advantage. Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski staked the home team a quick 2-0 lead, aided by some bad Vancouver turnovers in the defensive zone.
Kassian challenged Clowe shortly after that, and Clowe got the better of the punches in despite getting a bloody lip.
Vancouver started coming on late in the first and early in the second, and the Sharks were on their heels protecting the lead. Antti Niemi made some impressive saves, but Burrows’ shot took a fortunate bounce for the visitors when it deflected in off of Boyle’s skate at 11:05 of the second.
It seemed as if it was only a matter of time before the Canucks scored the equalizer, but a bad interference penalty on Maxim Lapierre put the Sharks’ scorching power play unit back on the ice.
Marleau’s ninth goal, off of his skate after a shot from Couture bounced around in the crease, gave San Jose its two-goal cushion back. It came after a long shift in the offensive zone, by a unit that already has 12 power play goals this season.
“We knew we were going to have to score at that point, and we had pressure and had zone time, so it was good,” Pavelski said.
Thornton said of the power play: “People have been working hard, getting pucks back, and as a result we’ve been scoring goals.”
Soon after that goal, the penalty killers had to go to work, thanks to Clowe. The winger was whistled for high-sticking Keith Ballard with 27 seconds left in the second period and didn’t like the call. Instead of quietly going to the penalty box, though, he made his opinion known to the official, and loudly banged his stick against the glass.
The first time he did it, an additional minor was tacked on. That only infuriated him further, and a second smash of the stick resulted in his dismissal from the game.
Instead of cutting into the San Jose lead, though, Vancouver couldn’t convert. In fact, in the four minutes of power play time, interrupted by the end of the second period, the Canucks managed just one shot. Pavelski’s power play goal at 8:14 of the third made it 4-1, and basically sealed the win.
“We’re confident in the group that we can all kind of chip in and do it,” Pavelski said of the penalty kill. “We have four units that go out there, and on the four-minute kill tonight it was important that no one got real tired. We got the clears, won some faceoffs. That’s what you have to do.”
“We knew we still had a game to play with the four minutes to kill early on in the third. It wasn’t over by any means,” Thornton said. “We buckled down and played hard.”
Clowe wasn’t available to speak with the media after the game, but there’s little doubt that the stand-up veteran will admit it was the wrong time to put his team shorthanded, and he’ll have to keep his emotions in check next time. His eight penalties tied Link Gaetz's franchise record set in 1992.
“I have a ton of respect for Clowie, as do all his teammates. He’s going to continue to be a very important player for our hockey club,” McLellan said.