SAN JOSE – The last time Andrew Desjardins laid a devastating hit on an opponent, on Feb. 5 against Chicago, the 26-year-old was unfairly given a match penalty for what the referee deemed an illegal check to the head to Blackhawks’ forward Jamal Mayers. Duncan Keith jumped Desjardins, and Chicago scored during a four-on-four on what should have been a Sharks power play. The Blackhawks went on to a 5-3 win.
Things worked out a little differently on Thursday. The fourth liner, who hasn’t made much of an impact this season while occasionally coming out of the lineup, gave the Sharks all the momentum with a second period leveling of the Kings’ Colin Fraser.
Defenseman Jake Muzzin took exception to the hit, immediately engaging Desjardins, and putting his team shorthanded for four minutes in the process. San Jose scored twice to take a 3-0 lead.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks 4, Kings 3]
“I'm not a fighter. I didn't like seeing my teammate get hit like that, so I had to do something about it,” Muzzin said. “I tried my best. I had to look after a teammate. A teammate is vulnerable like that, you don't want them running around thinking they can do that all the time.”
Did Muzzin think it was a cheap shot?
“It's tough, the puck is on the guy's skates and he's vulnerable, and then they take advantage of him. I just don't like seeing a teammate get hit like that, so I went in.”
Muzzin’s willingness to stick up for his teammate is admirable, but Fraser admitted the hit was clean.
“You're allowed to hit. It's the NHL, and I kind of put an onus on myself to know he's coming, which obviously I didn't,” Fraser said. “I'll take a clean hit. If it was the other way around, I would have been trying to hit him just as hard.”
Desjardins, too, knew the hit was well within the rules, and said he wasn’t going in with any intent to injure. Fraser looked a bit dazed once he made his way back to the bench, but finished the game.
“You try to get lay a clean hit, shoulder-to-shoulder. You’re not trying to take their head off or anything,” Desjardins said. “Definitely, when you see something like that, you want to try and make an impact with the physical play, and make it clean.”
The two power play goals were the difference in a much-needed 4-3 regulation win for San Jose. Logan Couture had a three point night and Brent Burns had a goal and an assist, but it was Desjardins’ play that was the single biggest turning point.
“Definitely, it’s a reward for your play,” Desjardins said.
Niemi strong early
Lost a bit in the win over the Kings is that without goaltender Antti Niemi, the Sharks might have been out of it early. Los Angeles had the energy in the first period, especially the first 10 minutes, registering nine of the first 10 shots. The Kings trailed 1-0 after one though, thanks to Niemi’s play and a goal from Burns.
The Kings were likely still upset about a decisive loss to Phoenix on Tuesday at Jobing.com Arena, 5-2.
“They came hard early, pretty much what we expected. I felt really good getting shots early,” Niemi said.
Even when they feel behind 4-1 early in the third on Couture’s goal, the defending champs maintained pressure. Dustin Brown and Dwight King made things interesting with a pair of late goals, but Niemi made a key save on Justin Williams with 16 seconds left and the goalie pulled for an extra attacker as the Kings fought for an equalizing goal that never came.
“I just tried to get a little out there to cover the angle. I think [Williams] tried to go five-hole, and I was there to stop it,” Niemi said.