SAN JOSE – One year ago, just hours after the 2015 NHL trade deadline, the Sharks hosted the Canadiens at SAP Center and went on to win by a four-goal margin.
On Monday they did the exact same thing, beating down Montreal, 6-2, shortly after finding out that there would be no more significant additions or subtractions to their dressing room.
And that’s where the similarities end.
Looking more and more like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, the Sharks rolled four lines against Montreal, with three of them contributing offensively. Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski combined for three goals, while second liner Nick Spaling, fourth liner Melker Karlsson and defenseman Brent Burns all found the back of the net, too.
This time last year, the Sharks had just completed a miserable February that knocked them out of playoff position for good, and was a reflection of their internal strife and weak roster. Now, they’re already locks to make the postseason and are even challenging for the top spot in the Pacific Division, trailing the Kings by just four points with 20 games to go.
Thornton, who had one goal and two assists in maintaining his unconscious play of late, has been with the Sharks for 11 seasons. Has he ever been on a team as deep as this one?
“No, it’s real impressive,” he said. “Any night it can be another line doing the damage. It’s fun to be a part of, and when you’re winning it’s obviously fun. We’ve got a real deep team, and it’s an exciting team to watch right now.”
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Monday’s win is that despite playing their third game in four nights and second of a back-to-back, the Sharks dominated in the third period. They turned a 3-2 lead into a 6-2 blowout while outshooting the Canadiens, 14-6.
“I thought we dug deep in the third period,” Pete DeBoer said. “We knew we had a day off [Tuesday] and it was the end of a long couple of weeks. Guys found a way, and I thought our third was excellent considering the circumstances.”
Spaling, who scored his second goal in four games with the Sharks, said: "We found some energy in the third. That's good to see, coming off of a tough schedule.”
Spaling has fit in well, and on Monday DeBoer had him up on the second line with Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi. His marker on a Couture rebound at 3:37 of the third period essentially put the game away for San Jose, upping its lead to 5-2.
Just a minute-and-a-half before that, it was Karlsson’s goal on a setup by Chris Tierney that got the ball rolling the right direction for the Sharks in the final frame.
After getting away from playing Thornton, Couture and Patrick Marleau down the middle for parts of their previous two games – and scoring just one goal in five periods – it would seem the Sharks are much more dangerous when they stick to that configuration.
“You’re never married to combinations, but the record speaks for itself,” DeBoer said. “We’re a very good team when we’ve had that type of alignment. We had a huge goal from the fourth line in the third period that kind of set the tone for the period for us. We are getting contributions from everybody.”
That includes the goalie, who is still awaiting his new backup in James Reimer, who won’t arrive until Wednesday at the earliest. Jones made his ninth straight start, including two sets of back-to-backs.
He allowed a bad goal to Brenden Gallagher in the first period, but those kinds of scores have been few and far between with him lately.
“What we’ve put on his plate this year for a young guy who hasn’t been in this situation before, it’s been impressive,” DeBoer said. “The fact that he was good tonight despite the one goal that went in, he’s finding ways to win games for us. [It] speaks to what he’s becoming, which is a legitimately top-end starter in this league.”
It all adds up to a drastically different situation than the Sharks found themselves in 12 months ago.
“You can just feel the energy that the team brings every night,” Tierney said. “We’re in a good spot right now and hopefully we build up to the playoffs and try to make a run at it.”