Gritty Sharks back on track
The Sharks have depended on lesser-known names vs. the Avs
Evgeni Nabokov needs to improve for the Sharks to advance
The first two games featured very few 'pretty' goals
DENVER -- Looking pretty smart after San Jose's wildly entertaining (and, if you're a Sharks fan, somewhat worrisome) 6-5 OT win over the Avalanche in Game 2: Sharks GM Doug Wilson. He's the one who performed an offseason heart transplant, so to speak, on his roster, correcting a grit deficit by bringing in abrasive, hard-nosed, two-way guys like Manny Malhotra, Scott Nichol and Jed Ortmeyer. There was Malhotra, the highly respected, 12-year veteran, chipping in a rebound to tie the game at 1-1 late in the first period. It was just the second playoff goal of his career.
Nichol is the ex-Nashville Predator and 5-foot-9, 180-pound dervish who fought the 6-4 Joe Thornton to a draw last season, which certainly didn't hurt his chances of signing with the Sharks. "Scotty thinks he beat [Thornton]," says Wilson. "I tell him, 'You keep thinking that.'"
With 20 seconds to play in the second period (and his wife and children on a run to the concession stand, he later learned), Nichol backhanded Ortmeyer's rebound past Avs goalie Craig Anderson, knotting the game at 4-4. Nichol has been in the NHL for eight seasons, having toiled in the minors for seven. That was the first playoff goal of his career.
"That's what playoff hockey's about, everybody contributing," Malhotra said. "Everybody provided energy, which, shift by shift, we kept building on."
"We're going to enjoy the win right now, and tomorrow we're going to look at the good, the bad and the ugly, learn from it, and get ready to play the next game." As both teams fend off butterflies before Game 3 on Sunday in Denver, let's follow Malhotra's lead and review the good, the bad and the ugly for San Jose:
This one's self-evident: the Sharks forwards. Most of them, anyway.
Nichol centers San Jose's fourth line. He was all over the ice in Game 2, meting out a team-high eight hits. Third-line center Malhotra, meanwhile, won eight of his 10 face-offs. Their play was often overshadowed by the Sharks' second line: left wing Ryan Clowe scored San Jose's sole goal in its 2-1 loss in Game 1; center Joe Pavelski pounced on a rebound to send Game 2 into OT, where right wing Devin Setoguchi won it with his second goal of the game. For one night, at least, it didn't matter that the team's top trio of forwards, the so-called Gold Medal Line of Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau, was held without a goal. For the second straight game.
Which is not to say those guys aren't flying around, hitting people, generating a bushel of quality chances. They just have yet to cash any of them in. I still get the strong sense that a deluge is forthcoming ...
While the Sharks often find themselves victims of hot goaltenders in the playoffs, they don't often have one of their own. The general feeling, coming into these playoffs, is that, while he's certainly never lost a series, nor has Evgeni Nabokov caught fire and stolen one for San Jose. It appears that this year will prove no exception. While he was more than solid in Game 1, the 34-year-old had a far shakier outing in victory on Friday night. It certainly didn't help that, with the game barely a minute old, Rob Blake's clearing pass struck fellow Sharks defenseman Marc Vlasic in the chest, before trickling past Nabokov. While he couldn't be faulted, much, for Colorado's first three goals, Nos. 4 and 5 were soft. At one point Nabokov had allowed five goals on 14 shots. Coach Todd McLellan had said on the eve of the series that he didn't need "Nabby" to be Superman. But if Nabokov can't even be Clark Kent, the Sharks are headed for another early exit.
Have you seen the goals in this series? Whether it was Blake inadvertently redirecting Chris Stewart's no-way-this-goes-in wrist shot off Blake's skate blade and into the net to win Game 1, or Blake's bizarre own-goal off Vlasic to start Game 2, the scoring plays in this series have not exactly been balletic. Consider Colorado's second goal in that game: The puck took a strange bounce off the glass, ricocheted off referee Marc Joannette and onto the stick of Anderson, who hit a streaking Stewart in stride with a terrific, 60-foot pass. Stewart cashed in the breakaway.
The goals that haven't been fluky have been, well, homely, the opposite of artistic. Here is Malhotra, recalling his goal, set up by Dan Boyle:
"Boyler did a great job pinching down ... He took it to the net, and it was just a lot of chaos and junk. Setoguchi was in there mucking around. Then, it was laying there perfect for me."
"That's the way it has to happen," says McLellan. "It's happening all around the league." He advises fans not to hold their breath waiting for a "pretty, tic-tac-toe finesse [goal] ... We'll be lucky if we get one of those in this series."
Chaos and junk it is, in that case. At least until Heatley and Marleau and Thornton start clicking. Which could be Sunday.