SAN JOSE – Strong first periods have become commonplace for the San Jose Sharks, who held on to beat the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night, 2-1, after two early goals from Scott Hannan and Tyler Kennedy.
The remaining 40 minutes? They could use a little bit of work.
The Sharks are now outscoring the opposition 32-12 overall in the first 20 minutes, and against New Jersey, that was enough to get the victory.
[Instant Replay: Sharks hold off persistent Devils]
Head coach Todd McLellan would like to see his club maintain that early energy it has had so often throughout the rest of the game, though.
"The guys are coming to the rink prepared. They're full of energy, and want to use it. They play the game the right way early in the game, and then it can get away on us later on for whatever reason,” McLellan said.
“It's something that we have to fix. I told the guys on the road trip I think that's one of the biggest areas that we can improve in, is sticking with the game plan, putting teams away, managing a lead and playing our game through that - not wandering off and doing something different, or slowing it down."
Along with their 2-0 lead after 20 minutes, the Sharks held a 9-3 advantage in shots on goal, and all four lines spent a good amount of time in the offensive zone. The Devils, winners of their previous three, evened out the playing field in a scoreless second period.
Enter Antti Niemi. Although the Sharks’ goaltender had to make just 18 saves on the night, he smothered a pair of deflected pucks in the second period, made a key pad save on Travis Zajac in the third with his club ahead 2-1, and denied Peter Harrold in the final minute of regulation with Martin Brodeur pulled for an extra attacker.
“Nemo played great down the stretch. That’s what he does for us,” Joe Thornton said.
McLellan said: “Nemo was not tested, really at all, for a good chunk of the game, and then later on when we didn't play as well... He made some good saves down the stretch, a couple of them.”
For Niemi, it was the first time he recorded wins in back-to-back starts since Oct. 19-21.
Another bright spot was the play of Burns, who skated for just the second time after missing a month with an undisclosed upper body injury. Burns’ aggressive forecheck led to Hannan’s goal, and the big six-foot-five winger drew a pair of penalties.
Burns finished with three shots and tied for a game-high four hits.
“The second game day, you feel definitely a lot better legs-wise,” Burns said. “I hope I feel way better than I did tonight going forward. It’s coming, I knew it was going to take some time.”
Thornton, who got the secondary assist on Hannan’s goal after Burns started it when he ran over Adam Larsson, said: “With Burnzie’s size, he’s usually going to separate the man from the puck, and I just grab the puck. It’s going to continue to get better for us.”
The Sharks improved to 9-0-1 this season with a healthy Burns in the lineup, including the first two games of the current season-long, five-game homestand.
Next week features three teams that the Sharks are in direct competition with for the top spot in the Western Conference in Los Angeles, St. Louis and Anaheim. The team has off on Sunday and will practice on Monday and Tuesday. That could give the head coach time to hammer home his message of maintaining that early energy for a full 60 minutes.
In the meantime, a win is still, in fact, a win.
"That's the first real positive. A good start,” McLellan said. “A lot of good things for about two-thirds of the game – maybe not quite two-thirds – and then took our foot off the gas.”
Thornton said: “They played well in the third period and made it a close game, but at this point, you’re just happy to get the two points.”