CHICAGO – On paper, a 2-2 road trip doesn’t look anything more than average.
In reality, though, it has to be considered a successful one for the Sharks, who played a tight defensive game against the best team in the Western Conference, got solid goaltending from Martin Jones, and won the special teams battle in a 2-0 triumph at United Center on Tuesday night. Against four solid teams in four straight road games coming out of the All-Star break, they could have done much worse than breaking even.
Patrick Marleau’s power play goal and Jones’ 33 saves prevented the Sharks from losing two straight games for the first time in more than a month after they were spanked in Nashville on Saturday. It also kept them in second place in the Pacific Division, one point ahead of the surging Ducks.
“To respond this way, the guys played hard. Gave them really nothing,” Joe Pavelski said. “The PK was great, power play. Special teams was there for us. Jonesy was solid. We’re playing a good team game right now.”
Marleau said: “This is a big win tonight, in order to make it a pretty good road trip.”
From a defensive standpoint, the Sharks withstood a push from Chicago late in the second period after Marleau’s marker, as well as more than a minute-and-a-half of power play time for the Blackhawks to start the third.
Jones said he tracked a howitzer from Patrick Kane all the way just 37 seconds into the final frame, and just after that Brent Burns made a key shot-block on a Brent Seabrook one-timer from the circle.
“Guys did a great job in front of the net,” said Jones, who recorded his fifth shutout.
The Sharks’ penalty kill was a perfect 11-for-11 on the road trip, including 3-for-3 against Chicago.
A huge key to victory for the Sharks had nothing to do with the players on the ice, or even the coaches on the bench. When Brandon Mashinter seemingly gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 first period lead, video coach Dan Darrow alerted Pete DeBoer that there might have been some goalie interference on the play.
The referees agreed that Dennis Rasmussen prevented Jones from making the stop at 17:23 of the first, and it remained scoreless.
That did not sit well with Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who stormed out of his postgame press conference after just one question about the decision, arms flailing.
Jones, naturally, had no problem with the call.
“Just a bouncing puck in front of the net. Their guy, my glove got caught in his leg,” Jones said.
DeBoer credited Darrow, and added: “Key call at that time of the game. Really changed the game for us.”
Marleau’s goal was his 16th, but first in a manned net in the last 16 games. He didn’t exactly expect it to hold up as the game-winner against the dangerous Chicago offense.
“You don’t think that going against these guys with all that talent they have over there. But Jonesy played a hell of a game for us, and ended up that was all we needed.”
As for Marleau snapping out of a scoring funk, DeBoer said: “He’s been getting a Grade-A [chance] or two a night, they just haven’t been going in. It was nice for him to get rewarded.”
The Sharks have shown an ability to finish off long road trips with impressive wins. In addition to Tuesday night, they stormed back from a two-goal third period deficit to beat Columbus on Nov. 22 at the end of a six-game trip, and got past Los Angeles on Dec. 22 to close out a five-gamer.
That brings an added benefit, according to Marleau.
“We just like having a happy plane on the way home,” he said.