VANCOUVER – If anything, the Sharks’ trade deadline activity was yet another reminder that the team is going to sink or swim with its younger players for the rest of the season.
Perhaps the kids are taking that vote of confidence the right way.
Rookies Chris Tierney and Melker Karlsson scored first period goals, and sophomore Matt Nieto had a three-point night including a key second period marker in a 6-2 Sharks win over Vancouver at Rogers Arena on Tuesday night that included two empty net goals.
The Sharks (32-25-8, 72 points) remain in a three-way tie in points for third place in the Pacific Division, although Calgary and Los Angeles – each a winner on Tuesday night – have two games in hand. San Jose won consecutive games for the first time since the end of January.
The Sharks saw an early 3-0 lead cut to 3-2 in the second period, but got a key goal by a player who has struggled to find the back of the net all season.
Nieto, who had just one goal in his previous 29 games, whizzed a wrist shot past Eddie Lack at 11:45, giving San Jose a 4-2 lead that remained at second intermission and halting the Canucks' momentum. Patrick Marleau helped make it happen, stripping Daniel Sedin beside the net and finding an open Nieto, seconds after Marleau's slap dunk attempt was thwarted by a Vancouver stick.
San Jose’s penalty killers played a major role in keeping the two-goal cushion, denying the Canucks on a two-man advantage for one minute and 26 seconds. Logan Couture had a key clear, and Antti Niemi ate up a Yannick Weber blast in keeping it a 4-2 score.
Nieto added an empty net goal with 2:49 to go to give him six on the season, while Vlasic scored a second marker with Lack pulled at 18:09.
The Sharks and Canucks have spilt four meetings, with the road team winning each time. The season series concludes on Saturday at SAP Center.
The Sharks jumped all over Jacob Markstrom, making his season debut, chasing the goaltender less than eight minutes into the game.
Tierney opened the scoring at 3:03 of the first. He and Barclay Goodrow pressured Weber into a turnover along the wall, and Tierney picked the far corner for his second career goal, both of which have come at Rogers Arena.
About four minutes later, Karlsson’s awareness made it 2-0. Matt Irwin’s slap shot sailed high into the glass behind the goal, but bounded into the crease, where Karlsson was battling for position. Despite being knocked off his skates, Karlsson managed to swing his stick around to his backhand side and sweep it inside the far post at 7:18.
Nieto had a hand in the Sharks’ third goal just 27 seconds later, when Markstrom directed his rebound right to Logan Couture’s stick, and Couture made no mistake in ending a six-game goal drought at 7:45.
Lack entered at that point, and the Canucks outplayed the Sharks for the rest of the first period. It carried over into the second and Henrik Sedin scored twice – once on the power play at 1:10, and again on a slick setup by brother Daniel at 9:12.
The Sharks have won seven of their last eight games at Rogers Arena, including three shootouts.
San Jose had just one power play, going 0-for-1. On the penalty kill, the Sharks killed off four of five Canucks power plays, one night after not being shorthanded at all in the win over Montreal.
After getting a rare night off on Monday, Niemi returned to the net and made 26 saves for his 25th win. He has won his last five starts at Rogers Arena, allowing only seven goals total over that span.
Markstrom gave up goals on three of four shots before Lack came in off the bench to make 23 saves on 24 shots. Starter Ryan Miller remains out with a knee injury.
The Sharks dressed the same lineup that played against Montreal, as Mirco Mueller remained in the lineup over Scott Hannan.
San Jose has just 12 healthy forwards on the roster, and is expected to recall at least one extra body before its next game.
Irwin and Marleau each increased their point-scoring streaks to four games.
The Sharks should be well rested when the Canucks visit SAP Center on Saturday, while Vancouver has a game in Arizona on Thursday first.
San Jose will be kicking off a difficult four-game homestand that continues with Pittsburgh, Nashville and Chicago. After that, 10 of the final 13 games are on the road.