SAN JOSE -– It was perhaps their gutsiest performance of the season.
Despite icing a lineup of five rookies with fewer than 25 games of NHL experience, and missing the man who is far and away their best defensive defenseman in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the Sharks managed to squeak past the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night at SAP Center, 2-1.
They got effective minutes from all their lines and defense pairs, and held the Wild to a season-low 19 shots, 18 of which were turned away by Alex Stalock.
“It was a good night for our team. I thought everybody fell into place,” Todd McLellan said.
Joe Pavelski, who scored the game-winning goal in the third period, said: “The injuries have happened a little bit. Young guys come up and they’ve got to fly six hours, either play that day or play the next day. It’s all part of it, and they’ve done a tremendous job. They’ve all been awesome. The third line, the fourth line – they’ve given big minutes, created a lot of energy and [were] a big part of this win.”
While it was Pavelski and Brent Burns (on the power play) supplying the offense, McLellan was able to roll all four of his lines for just about the duration. That included James Sheppard centering Barclay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson on the third line, while Chris Tierney was between Tye McGinn and Andrew Desjardins on the fourth line.
The only player to skate fewer than 10 minutes was Tierney (9:22).
Playing in just his second NHL game, Karlsson tied with Burns for the team lead with four shots, including a great opportunity late in the second period on a setup from Goodrow. Tierney, recalled on Wednesday, also looked much more comfortable than in his first stint in the NHL, too.
Still, it was the Sharks top stars that led the way.
Pavelski’s one-timer goal from Joe Thornton, who had two assists on the night, gave the Sharks the third period lead back just 45 seconds after Minnesota had tied it on the first career goal by Christian Folin. It was Pavelski’s team-leading 15th marker.
Logan Couture was kept off of the scoresheet, but snuffed out a pair of Wild scoring chances when the game was still scoreless in the second period. He prevented Thomas Vanek’s wraparound into an open net early in the middle frame, and hustled back to stop Zach Parise from getting off a shot on a two-on-one with Jared Spurgeon a few minutes later.
Couture said: “I think [Spurgeon] probably should have shot the puck. Thankfully he passed it, and I was able to get my stick on it.”
“He broke up a goal in that situation. It didn’t go unnoticed,” McLellan said. “Everybody on the bench noticed it, too. That’s powerful when a go-to player like that makes a play like that. Everybody recognizes the great offensive plays that he makes, but the commitment to coming back is powerful on the bench when your teammates see it.”
Although the Sharks gave up a few too many odd-man rushes, particularly in the second period, their performance as a defensive unit couldn’t be faulted as the ever-steady Vlasic missed his first game of the season.
Burns was particularly effective after an off night on Tuesday vs. Edmonton in which he bailed out of the way of a David Perron goal. He seemed to play with more of an edge against his former team, including some run-ins with Nino Niederreiter.
“He played with a lot of authority around the blue paint,” McLellan said. “That was a focus of ours going in. … I thought he played with a bit of a growl, and his net presence was very big and strong.”
The Sharks now seem to have turned a corner at home, notching their fifth straight win at SAP Center where they were the best home team in the Western Conference last season.
Just as importantly, they’re making up ground in the standings, and are currently tied with Calgary in points with 36 (16-11-4). They’re just two points behind Vancouver for second, although the Canucks have two games in hand.
“As we move forward we feel good about the group, and we’ve got to keep going,” Pavelski said.