ANAHEIM – They couldn’t have drawn it up any better, even if they do have a few extra bumps and bruises to show for it.
A little more than 24 hours after dropping an unacceptable decision to the Buffalo Sabres, the Sharks regrouped to snap the Anaheim Ducks’ seven-game winning streak with a 4-1 triumph at Honda Center on Sunday night.
Not only was the game the most complete effort the team has put forth to date in the early going, it featured a combined 27 penalties and 165 penalty minutes, including five fights and many more scrums in what was the first of five meetings between the two rivals that had been going in opposite directions.
The Sharks’ four-game losing streak is history. Not only did they point the needle in the right direction again, it was the kind of game that can bring a team together for the long haul.
After everything that’s gone on during the Sharks’ strange offseason and ensuing changes to their leadership structure, it could be just what they need to develop the kind of bond that good teams typically possess.
“I hope that’s what it does. I think that’s what it should do,” said Antti Niemi, who made 33 saves to earn his fourth win.
Adam Burish said: “The team stuck together, and we can be proud of that. The team stuck together, and we beat a good team.”
As they’ve done most nights, the Sharks jumped out to an early lead, scoring twice and getting key saves from Niemi on the penalty kill. The goaltender robbed Cam Fowler with 3:30 to go in the first period and the Sharks ahead 1-0 on a Brent Burns goal, allowing Joe Pavelski to increase the edge to 2-0 on a late first period power play marker.
Instead of sagging in the second and third periods, like they have done far too often, the Sharks kept playing hard, increasing their lead to 4-0 on goals from Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Tommy Wingels.
“We needed a win any way we could get it,” Todd McLellan said. “The fact that it comes against a rival that is probably the best team in the league right now, we’ll take that.”
The game got increasingly nasty, as evidenced by the final penalty minute numbers. A few potential fights between Mirco Mueller and Ryan Getzlaf, and later Wingels and Corey Perry, were broken up by the linesmen – which probably only made things worse by the time the third period rolled around and the game devolved into a total gong show.
Naturally, Sharks tough guy John Scott was a participant, and was given a penalty for coming off of the bench to engage the Ducks’ Tim Jackman, who went after Vlasic earlier in the third period.
That kind of penalty could potentially bring an automatic 10-game suspension, but McLellan took issue with the call.
“I don’t know how they came up with that. It’s a mistake,” he said. “[Scott] was clearly on the ice. There was an icing call, it was waived off, and he was already engaged.”
During that same stoppage, Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen seemed to go after Tomas Hertl in a scrum in the faceoff circle. Niemi, still working on a shutout at the time, was nearly goaded into joining the fray.
“I looked at our bench and I think the boys wanted me to go there. Maybe next time,” he said, unable to hold back laughter.
By the time Niemi did allow Matt Beleskey’s power play goal at 14:53 of the third period, the game was already decided.
How important was the victory? That will be revealed in the coming weeks, but if the Sharks are able to start winning consistently, remember this one.
“We were playing probably the best team in the league right now,” Vlasic said. “It was a great opportunity to get us back on track, and we did that.”