SAN JOSE – It’s been the team’s principal and most evident weakness, even when the Sharks were off to the races on their historic 7-0-0 start.
Secondary scoring. Goals from guys not named Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski and Couture are in short supply, and it’s a big reason why the Sharks had won just once in their last 10 games (1-6-3) headed into Tuesday night’s home game with Colorado.
As tight as each and every NHL game is these days, goals from players that aren’t always viewed as dynamic offensive threats will be vital. Against the Avalanche, TJ Galiardi’s first goal of the season, on a great setup by James Sheppard, gave the Sharks a 2-1 second period lead. It nearly held up as the game-winner, but Mark Olver scored with 3:16 left in regulation. The Sharks won in a shootout, 3-2, improving to 2-6-3 since winning those first seven.
The goal was particularly special for Galiardi, who might have gotten a little bit tired of hearing how bad the Jamie McGinn trade has turned out for San Jose. It was just his second goal in a Sharks uniform in 26 career games here.
“It’s been something we’ve struggled with all season and we’ve been looking for chemistry on our third and fourth lines,” said Galiardi, who has been a healthy scratch six times.
McLellan altered his lines in the first intermission, putting Sheppard with Galiardi and Adam Burish. On that line's first shift, Sheppard held off Colorado’s Greg Zanon before a beautiful backhanded feed to Galiardi, who had position in front of the net at 2:55 of the second period.
Sheppard described the goal.
“I was just trying to get away from my check. Gali did a great job at the net. Whenever you can lose a check you just try to keep your head up and try to look for something that’s open. I just kind of spun around, threw it towards the net, and luckily Gali had his stick in the perfect spot.”
For Sheppard, it was just his second assist in 11 games.
“I thought they played probably one of their best games all year,” Joe Thornton said. “They were cycling the puck well, and Shep made a great play on the goal to give Gali a wide-open net.”
Of the Sharks’ 41 goals this season, 29 have been scored by their top four previously mentioned scorers. Galiardi’s goal was just the fifth of the season by forwards that regularly skate on one of the bottom two lines (Tim Kennedy has two, while Michal Handzus and Tommy Wingels have one apiece. Sheppard, Adam Burish, Scott Gomez and Andrew Desjardins all have yet to score).
McLellan knows he needs more production from top to bottom if the Sharks are going to compete on a regular basis.
“That’s a big, big goal for our team right now,” Todd McLellan said. “[Galiardi] getting it against his old team has got to be a bit rewarding, but also to get them on the score sheet. It’s been a long time coming.”
Thornton said: "It’s going to be huge, going forward, that they keep going.”
Still, it wasn’t all cause for celebration for the Sharks, who failed to put away the 14th-best team in the Western Conference while leading 2-1 to start the third. San Jose outshot Colorado 41-27 for the game, but failed to reach three goals in regulation for the 12th time in 13 games.
The Sharks can’t be picky when it comes to putting points in the bank, though. They just returned from a reasonably miserable 1-4-1 road swing, which included some decidedly ugly losses to the NHL’s first place team (4-1 in Chicago on Feb. 15) and its last place team (6-2 in Columbus on Feb. 11).
“Big win, a real big win. It’s so hard to win right now,” McLellan said. “We played a pretty solid game throughout and made a couple mistakes that ended up in our net. Tough to win, but I’m glad that our group got it tonight, because we probably deserved it.”
Couture said: “The two points are big right now, especially the way that things have gone lately. I thought we played well. Any time you get over 40 shots on a team like that, you expect to score more goals, and we had a lot of good chances.”
That includes on the power play, which was 0-for-5, but generated 13 shots on goal, by McLellan’s count. The Sharks nearly ended it in overtime with McGinn off on a high-stick, but Varlamov made the save of the night with a glove of Thornton’s opportunity from the circle.
“I thought our power play looked very dangerous tonight. I had a good crack at the end there, and he made a good save,” Thornton said.
Until those types of chances start going in, and there is an uptick in the goal-scoring department, there’s still reason for concern, according to Couture.
“There’s not going to be a sense of relief until we start scoring some goals,” he said. “We still have to go out there and score. We can get the good looks, but we’ve got to put them in the back of the net soon.”
Couture ended an eight-game goalless drought with his first period marker from Thornton just 25 seconds after puck drop in the first period.
“It’s good to score. I always put a lot of pressure on myself, and when the team is not scoring and I’m not scoring, you want to help the team out,” Couture said. “It’s good to get one quick, and hopefully I can build off this and get a couple more.”
He’ll have to. And other players will, as well.