TORONTO – It was halfway through the second period - 9:59 left, to be exact - and the Toronto Maple Leafs were all over the San Jose Sharks.
Phil Kessel’s power play goal tied the game just seconds earlier, erasing an early 2-0 hole for his club. Toronto had already poured 15 shots on net in the second period alone, and all of the early momentum the Sharks had from their strong start was gone.
“Coach, he let us know what the night was looking like, and how bad we were in that stretch,” Joe Pavelski said of the TV timeout.
And, just like that, the tables were turned.
The Sharks registered the next 12 shots on goal, took the lead on Brad Stuart’s goal later in the frame, and recorded their sixth straight win, 4-2 at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night.
“I think maybe got a little lackadaisical at the start of that period for about 10 minutes. They really gave it to us,” said Joe Thornton, whose five-on-three goal gave the Sharks a two-goal advantage in the first period.
“The 10-minute mark it just kind of switched. We had a time out and kind of flipped it back on them. It wasn’t a very good 10 minutes, but we recovered and ended up winning.”
Todd McLellan expressed his displeasure a tad more emphatically than the captain.
“It was actually embarrassing for a while how poorly we were playing,” he said. “We had to have a little chat, and get everybody re-focued. After that, it wasn’t a Picasso by any means, but at least we got our game back.”
Stuart’s game-winner came with four minutes left in the second. The defenseman skated up the wall, directed the puck towards the front of the net, and got a fortunate redirection off of Toronto forward Jerred Smithson’s stick. Smithson was trying to keep Pavelski out of the crease.
“I think they were tired, and we had it working around pretty good, so there was a little bit of open ice,” Stuart said. “You just try to get your shots in, and I was able to get a little bit of a lucky bounce.”
That goal helped make up for Stuart’s mistake early in the second, when he let Mason Raymond blow past him for a two-on-one rush on a Toronto power play, resulting in the Maple Leafs’ first goal when Raymond wristed it through Antti Niemi.
According to McLellan, Stuart’s mistake was a reflection of his team’s play at that point.
“We were going through a phase there where everybody was playing that way,” said the head coach. “Sometimes when you make those mistakes you have somebody there to cover up, but we were non-existent for a good 11-12 minutes.”
Still, the Sharks were able to recover and capture the opening game of a four-game road trip. San Jose outshot the Maple Leafs 10-8 in a defensively responsible third, and Logan Couture’s empty-netter ensured San Jose would extend its winning streak.
The Sharks improved to 9-2-3 on the road, and still own the NHL’s best winning percentage (19-3-5, .796).
“Definitely didn’t have our A-game tonight, throughout the night,” Pavelski said. “But, guys did a good job battling. Once we got that final lead, we were able to hold on pretty well.”