SAN JOSE – After finishing with the best home record in the Western Conference last season, the Sharks haven’t quite found their groove at SAP Center. A season-long seven-game homestand gives them that opportunity.
They commenced it on a good note on Thursday, beating the Maple Leafs 3-1 on goals from Tyler Kennedy and Patrick Marleau and an empty-netter from Tommy Wingels.
San Jose ended a three-game regulation losing streak at home, improving to 11-7-2 on the season and beating Toronto for the eighth time in the last nine meetings.
The Sharks jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead on a pair of goals just 11 seconds apart.
Kennedy opened the scoring. He freed himself at the side of the net and took a hard pass from the point by Brenden Dillon, made a move on James Reimer, and slid it under the outstretched arm of the Maple Leafs goalie at 8:55.
Kennedy was playing in just his second game since missing 15 straight with a left shoulder injury.
On the ensuing shift, Marleau broke out of his dreadful scoring slump. He drove the net, and the puck rattled around before being pushed over the line by the back of Reimer’s leg with a little help from a driving Matt Nieto at 9:06.
Marleau ended a 16-game goal-scoring drought with his eighth of the season. He had never gone 17 in a row without a goal, and his previous 16-game scoreless streak came from Feb. 12 – March 23, 2002.
Toronto cut into the lead with its first goal in three games, after getting shut out in Los Angeles and Anaheim in its two previous matches. Mike Santorelli missed the net wide on an open look, and Roman Polak poked it off of Antti Niemi’s skate and over the line at 11:57 after the Sharks goalie was slow in moving from his right to his left.
San Jose kept up the pressure in the second, outshooting Toronto 17-4 over the middle frame, but couldn’t increase its lead. Reimer made a save on a Marleau blast and Matt Tennyson rebound with 14:16 to go, and robbed Brent Burns with a right pad with about a minute to go before the intermission.
The game had a nasty tone from the start. Joe Thornton and Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf came together on multiple occasions, including when Thornton drew a cross-checking penalty on Phaneuf in the first period. In the second, Thornton was called for a minor penalty for an illegal check to the head of Toronto’s Nazem Kadri, although replays showed Kadri throwing his head back after an apparent shoulder-to-shoulder collision.
The Sharks are 8-8-2 against Eastern Conference clubs, and 5-1-2 in their last eight games with Toronto at SAP Center.
San Jose outshot Toronto 41-25, reaching the 40-shot plateau for the first time since getting 44 against Boston on Dec. 4.
The Sharks failed on three power plays, although their first lasted just 14 seconds.
Toronto also was 0-for-3, and didn’t record a power play shot in more than four minutes. San Jose has killed off nine straight opponent power plays in its last three games, after significantly struggling in that department for the first two weeks after the Christmas break.
Niemi started for the sixth time in the last seven games, and 12th in the last 14. He improved to 18-11-4.
After some nervous moments in the first period, the Sharks’ starter settled in to make 24 saves. In the third period, he made two stops in succession on Korbinian Holzer and Daniel Winnik, freezing the puck with 13:44 to go on Winnik’s slapper from the circle. Santorelli got open in the slot with 5:26 to go, but Niemi turned it away.
Reimer fell to 6-8-0 on the season, allowing two goals on 40 shots.
For the second straight game, Tomas Hertl lined up as a center, skating between Kennedy and Tye McGinn. He played in the middle for the first time on Tuesday in Arizona, scoring a goal.
Matt Tennyson returned after sitting out Tuesday in Arizona. He was paired with Matt Irwin on defense.
Toronto was without David Booth, who was injured on Wednesday night in Anaheim.
The Sharks will play every other day at home until the All-Star break. They host Calgary on Saturday, New Jersey on Monday, and the Los Angeles Kings next Wednesday, Jan. 21.
San Jose is 1-1 against the Flames this season, as each team has won in the other’s building.