SAN JOSE – The return to form on the power play started in the Sharks’ previous game, on Tuesday against the New York Islanders, when Patrick Marleau’s marker ended a stretch in which San Jose had been just three for its previous 41 opportunities.
Against the Wild on Thursday, San Jose scored three more power play goals in the first 24 minutes, and beat Minnesota at SAP Center, 3-1. The much-needed victory ended a four-game losing streak for the club.
Joe Pavelski scored twice, and Tomas Hertl added his team-leading 15th goal, with all three coming on a man advantage.
“We’ve obviously found our work ethic,” said Pavelski, who recorded his 21st career two-goal game. “It hasn’t been necessarily pretty, but we’ve taken more shots and gotten a lot more pucks back, and a few have gone in now.”
Head coach Todd McLellan said essentially the same thing.
“The one thing that they got back was the work ethic, for the most part,” he said of his power play units. “You start there, and you can certainly build off of it. A three-for night is a good night, and a night that we’ll take. It obviously won us the game.”
It had been doing exactly the opposite lately, including two games ago against this same Wild club on Sunday in St. Paul. The Sharks were 0-for-4 in that 3-1 loss, and Dan Boyle called it the worst power play performance he had seen in his five-plus years with the team.
But in Thursday’s rematch, the Sharks took advantage of their seven opportunities, some of which were generous calls. That includes a double-minor for high-sticking on Zenon Konopka in the second period, even though replays showed it was Freddie Hamilton who hit Jason Demers in the face with an errant blade. That led to Pavelski’s second goal on the rebound of a Matt Irwin shot at 3:42.
An ineffective third period power play aside, the Sharks looked like a threat while up a man for the majority of their previous six advantages.
“We went through a stretch there where it was losing us some games,” said Logan Couture, who had to leave the ice at one point in the third period after getting hit above the left eye with a Marc-Edouard Vlasic shot. “I thought the power play was the reason we weren’t winning. In this room, we’ve got a lot of skilled players that should go out and create momentum for our team if we’re not scoring. We’re starting to score some goals, so it’s good to see.”
Hertl’s goal was particularly encouraging, as it came from the second unit. It was just the fifth power play goal that didn’t come from a player on the top unit of Boyle, Marleau, Couture, Pavelski and Joe Thornton.
It started with a nice keep by Tommy Wingels along the wall. Hertl got open in the circle, took a pass from Wingels, skated to the slot and picked his corner with a perfect wrist shot past Niklas Backstrom at 14:43 of the first period to make it 2-0.
“Tommy Wingels made a very good pass. Easy for me,” Hertl said.
Still, the Sharks’ overall effort was far from flawless, again letting up while enjoying a lead. The Wild came out strong in the third period, made a push, and got a goal from Jonas Brodin with about seven minutes left. Minnesota outshot the Sharks in the final frame, 11-7.
“They get their first, and we tighten up,” McLellan said. “I still think we can have a lot more poise in that situation and make some real skilled plays. … That’s part of getting back to our A-game, and that will take some time.”
Furthermore, Antti Niemi finished with 29 saves in recording his 17th win, but the goaltender still seemed to be fighting the puck at times on shots that he routinely handles when he is on top of his game. He, too, can improve.
Still, the win was an important one for the Sharks, who will now go right back on the road on a tough three-game road trip in Nashville, St. Louis and Los Angeles.
“We were able to get a win that we really needed,” Couture said.