SAN JOSE -– If there was one constant to the Sharks’ play during their eight-game home losing streak, it was a distinct lack of energy and emotion.
Sure, they would show up in spurts. In the last three games, the Sharks played well in the second period of last Saturday’s Stadium Series match with the Kings, and their starts against the Red Wings and Senators were also strong, but there were far too many moments where they looked disinterested. They lost all three in regulation.
On Monday against Montreal, though, the Sharks outplayed the Canadiens in the first period, jumping ahead 2-0, and kept it up in the second, recording the first seven shots on goal and increasing that edge to 3-0. Montreal was never really in the game, despite going 9-1-2 in its previous 12.
The end result, a 4-0 blanking of the Canadiens, was easily the Sharks’ best effort at home in more than a month.
The win allowed the Sharks to pull even with the Flames and Kings for third place in the Pacific Division, although each of those two clubs has two games in hand.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks shutout Canadiens, snap home skid]
More importantly, though, they showed signs of life just hours after they were sellers at the NHL trade deadline.
“We stayed aggressive, and we had a lot of good offense tonight,” Tommy Wingels said.
That offense got a boost from an unlikely source, as Ben Smith, the lone addition after the Sharks dealt four players in the past two days, notched one goal and one assist. Smith scored less than seven minutes into his first game in teal, staking San Jose an early lead, and later assisted on Matt Irwin’s early second period marker while helping screen Carey Price.
That’s despite his hectic day of taking a pregame skate with the Blackhawks, making a pit stop at home to pack after finding out he was traded for Andrew Desjardins, flying to San Francisco and landing around 5 p.m., and jumping in a police-escorted vehicle to get down to SAP Center. He met many of his new teammates while riding a stationary bike during pregame warm-ups, which he missed due to his late arrival.
His goal was his first point since Dec. 27, as he went scoreless in his last 25 games in Chicago.
“It had been a while for me,” Smith said. “Nice to start that way and hopefully that can continue here. Anyway I can help this team win some games, and move forward, is something I’ll try to do every day.”
Wingels was one of two Sharks players that Smith already knew, the other being John Scott, his former teammate in Chicago. He was texting with that pair as the day progressed.
His line, including Wingels and Tomas Hertl, was the Sharks’ most effective of the night. Wingels and Hertl each had one assist, and all three had a +2 rating.
“I think we meshed pretty good from puck drop,” Wingels said. “We were able to sustain it throughout the three periods tonight. We’re happy with the game today. We know we have to carry it into the next game, and we plan on doing that.”
Smith’s early success also gave a jolt to the bench.
McLellan said: “There was an energy to the team that we haven't seen for a while. I think some of that had to do with Ben Smith coming in and scoring right off the bat. He energized everybody. But it's one game, and we're pleased."
Hertl was arguably the Sharks’ best forward of the night. Despite moving James Sheppard in order to get more Hertl time at center, the 21-year-old remained at left wing against Montreal. He had three shots on goal and three hits to go along with his assist on Smith’s goal.
“One of his better games in a long time,” McLellan said of Hertl. “Aggressive, good puck protection skills, good at both ends skating. A little bit of physicality. He actually got his nose involved in some things, so a lot of real positive things there.”
In net, Alex Stalock finally had another solid start, recording his first shutout since his very first start of the season on Oct. 11 in the Sharks’ home opener. He was rarely tested as San Jose played a strong team game in front of him, but stopped all 20 shots he saw to raise his season save percentage to .904 after it dipped to .899 after his previous start.
Stalock appreciated the effort in front of him.
“The way the guys kept the foot on the gas pedal was pretty special to watch,” he said. “We knew it was desperation time. I think you saw the guys in this room and how they responded.”
McLellan said: “Tremendous goaltending from Al. I'm really happy for him, that he was able to have that type of game and get the shutout against a very good team.”
It could be a good time for a back-to-back, as the Sharks will hope to duplicate their effort against the Canucks on Tuesday at Rogers Arena. The next stretch won’t be easy, as San Jose will return from that one with four more home games against Vancouver again, followed by Pittsburgh, Nashville and Chicago.
Sag once more, and the results won’t be difficult to predict against some of the NHL’s powerhouse teams.
“Took care of business tonight,” Pavelski said. “It's about building on it.”