SAN JOSE – While the Sharks’ record improved to an unblemished 6-0-0 on Tuesday night, their 3-2 shootout win over the Anaheim Ducks at HP Pavilion was anything but flawless.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks stay perfect with shootout win]
They’ll certainly pocket the two points, increasing their lead in the Pacific Division to five points and improving on what was already their best start in franchise history, but neither the team nor its coach was pleased with the 65-minute effort.
“We’ve got to be excited that we put points in the bank and were able to come back, but we have to tell it like it was – they were the better team,” Todd McLellan said.
Logan Couture, who scored the equalizing goal late in the third, said: “We didn’t play well. The first two periods we weren’t very good. We didn’t play enough in their end, didn’t break out clean, the list goes on. An ugly win, but we’ll take it in this season, for sure.”
The Sharks entered averaging 33.0 shots a game, but managed just 18 on Jonas Hiller. Their streak of winning by more than one goal ended, as did their run of scoring multiple power play goals. The Sharks were 0-for-2 with a man advantage and had trouble even setting up in the Anaheim zone after being so dominant through the first five games.
San Jose had just five shots midway through regulation, including Joe Pavelski’s first period goal.
“Any time a team keeps you to [five] shots at the halfway point they’ve done a real good job. You’ve got to give them credit,” McLellan said. “But, we also weren’t very sharp. We didn’t come out of our end well, we didn’t make outlet passes that we normally made in the five prior games. When you’re not doing that, teams defend so well and now you’re not getting any opportunities.”
McLellan shuffled his lines in the third period, searching for anything to get his club going. It paid off when Scott Gomez registered his first assist as a Shark, dropping a pass to Couture in the offensive zone before Couture’s shot snuck through Hiller’s pads with less than three minutes to go.
Gomez said: “When you’ve got a kid like that that can put the puck in the net, there really wasn’t much. Just gave it to him and he did the rest. [Brad Stuart] went to the net. It was a goal we needed, and we’ll take it.”
The game wasn’t all bad, though. San Jose’s penalty killers have been superb lately, killing off 13 straight opponent power plays, including all four Ducks chances on Tuesday.
That unit was at the heart of the team’s struggles last season. McLellan praised his new coaching staff additions, Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson, for getting things moving in the right direction when it comes to playing a man down.
“It’s been real good lately. It has to continue to be good. I think the players are beginning to understand some of the terminology and some of the things we want to do as a group,” McLellan said.
“Larry and Jim have done a tremendous job. They’ve come in and implemented what they want to do. They really believe in it, and they’ve got the players believing in it now. I think it’s showing up.”
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who played almost three and a half minutes shorthanded, was asked to describe the biggest differences between this year’s PK and last year’s version.
“We’re aggressive at the right spots,” he said. “Everybody is willing to block shots. We have good sticks. Guys are on the same page, blocking shots and pressuring when we can is huge for us right now.”
Antti Niemi said: “I think maybe we don’t give them so much time to set it up. I think we’re better in front of the net. They don’t get the rebounds there. I think that’s the biggest thing for me.”
The Sharks’ ace in the hole in shootouts also showed up, as Michal Handzus’ conversion against Hiller was the difference in gaining that all-important extra point against a division rival. Handzus, who beat Hiller high with a quick wrist shot, is 17-for-33 over his career.
“He’s known for scoring and we played the odds. He’s our best shootout guy from the beginning of [last] year,” McLellan said.
That the Sharks even had a chance to gain that extra point was fortunate enough, but the team may have learned a bit about itself as well.
McLellan talked about his message after the second period, when the Sharks trailed 2-1.
“We said as we came out into the third period, we’d learn a little bit about each other now. We’ve been cruising along, and we’ve played with the lead. We didn’t have a lot of frustration in a lot of games. Tonight we did.
“I thought one of the things we did was take care of each other on the bench. We weren’t pointing fingers, we were working through it. That caring for each other is important. You start pointing fingers and blaming people and blaming individuals, your team can crumble. It didn’t tonight.”