SAN JOSE -– The message was simple. The Sharks wanted to get on top of the Florida Panthers as soon as possible on Thursday night at SAP Center for a few reasons.
Primarily, San Jose had allowed the first goal in four straight games, and six of the last seven. That’s not a good habit to get into. Further, the Panthers were playing the second of a back-to-back on the road, so discouraging a team that may not have had its energy tanks full up would go a long way towards securing two points.
An early edge would also likely help goalie Alex Stalock settle in, after his first two starts did not go the 28-year-old’s way, and he called it a “must win” game for himself after the morning skate.
Brent Burns and Joonas Donskoi staked the Sharks a first period lead, and perhaps more importantly the team was able to respond every time it got some pushback from the Panthers in a 5-2 triumph.
“We talked about it this morning. We know what it’s like to play back-to-back on the road,” said Stalock, who had 31 saves. “The home team pounces on them early, it makes for a long night. We stayed on them, and our lines tonight when we got in their zone five-on-five, it was fun to watch.”
As Stalock alluded to, all of the Sharks’ goals came at even strength despite the Panthers coming into the game ranked third in the league in five-on-five scoring.
They got better contributions from up and down the lineup, including Nikolay Goldobin setting up Marc-Edouard Vlasic for a key second period marker that made it a 4-2 Sharks advantage.
The fourth line found a way to help, too.
According to Joe Thornton, Micheal Haley’s first period fight with the bigger Shawn Thornton when the game was still scoreless helped energize the bench less than three minutes after puck drop.
“We’ve been kind of flopping around those lines, but I thought he did unbelievable tonight,” Thornton said. “That energy he brought early on kind of gave us all a kick in the butt to go, and we really responded off of that.”
Pete DeBoer said: “That's a big play by [Haley] fighting a really tough guy and more than holding his own. When you see a guy like that do that you have no choice but to get involved in the game."
DeBoer altered both of his bottom two lines from Tuesday’s loss to Columbus, recalling Goldobin and Haley in the morning and sending Barclay Goodrow to the AHL. Along with Goldobin getting on the scoresheet, Tommy Wingels had the secondary helper on Vlasic’s goal, and Chris Tierney deposited an empty netter to put the game away. Eleven different Sharks had at least one point.
“I thought our depth was much more productive,” DeBoer said. “It felt better, we spent more time in the other team's end with all four lines, so we're getting there. It's not where I want it to be yet, but it's getting there."
The highlight of the night came courtesy of Patrick Marleau, who made a video-game type move in sharply cutting to the net and scoring on a backhand after skating around defenseman Alex Petrovic early in the second to make it 3-1. It gave the Sharks back the goal they lost midway through the first, when Brandon Pirri’s power play marker cut San Jose’s lead in half.
“I was able to get a loose puck there in the neutral zone and had some speed,” Marleau said. “There was a little scrum in the neutral zone so everybody was kind of standing still a little bit, and I was able to come with speed and get around the D.”
Thornton, who finished with two helpers, quipped: “What can you say? That’s vintage Patty Marleau.”
Twice in the first two periods the Panthers got to within one goal, but each time the Sharks responded. In the third, they came up with a couple big penalty kills while maintaining a 4-2 lead, not allowing Florida a chance to come from behind.
DeBoer called the penalty kill unit “fragile,” after allowing the Pirri goal in the first, but, “we had a couple big kills in the third, a couple saves. … It got better as the game went along.”
After some concerning efforts and performances over the past few weeks, the Sharks finally have a game they can build off of. They’ll be looking for their first back-to-back wins since reeling off four straight to start the season on Saturday against Anaheim.
“There were a lot of positives,” DeBoer said.