I got my first live look Saturday night at new Sharks coach Todd McLellan’s team when they beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 in overtime at the Shark Tank.
My first impressions?
There’s no better place to start than with defenseman Dan Boyle. McLellan said he wanted his defenseman to be more offensive, and Boyle definitely got the message.
Boyle scored the game-winner, taking a pass from Joe Thornton and slamming it home past a helpless Antero Niittymaki for his first goal as a Shark. But that was just the exclamation point to Boyle’s game. Boyle, who came to the Sharks during an offseason trade with Tampa Bay, was seemingly everywhere at once, on both ends of the ice. He had two assists to go with his goal.
“I wanted to win bad,” Boyle said. “I just got involved offensively, and once again Joe made a great play. It was an open net. It was pretty easy.”
Maybe the finishing touch was easy. But Boyle put himself in position to take Thornton’s pass by aggressively crashing the net from the right side.
“That’s his game,” Sharks winger Jonathan Cheechoo said. "He goes 100 mph all the time. He’s so shifty and good with the puck, he usually gets in and creates some chances for us.”
Boyle helped create a great scoring chance for the Sharks after Philadelphia had taken a 4-3 lead on Daniel Briere’s second goal at 11:11 of the third period.
Boyle controlled the puck, weaved his way toward the goal then flicked a pass to his left to Jeremy Roenick who fired a shot. Devin Setoguchi, in the right place at the right time, banged the rebound home for the tying goal.
“I was coming down the flank, and the rebound came right on my stick,” Setoguchi said. “That’s the way Todd wants us to do it.”
What McLellan wants is for the Sharks to get bodies in front of the net and for his defenseman to lend a hand on offense.
Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff followed orders. He scored the Sharks’ first goal early in the second period, hammering home a long shot from the right side. It was his second goal of the young season.
Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Boyle earned assists on Jonathan Cheechoo’s second-period goal.
Ehrhoff got an assist on Boyle’s game-winner. He fired a hard shot that went wide of the net but bounced off the boards to Thornton, who maneuvered toward the middle then fed Boyle a perfect pass.
“I think for the most part this year we’ve jumped in the play when we’ve had to and we’ve gotten some chances,” Boyle said of the Sharks’ defensemen. “We just really haven’t put the puck in the net. We’re getting a lot of shots. It’s just a matter of getting the puck through.”
Boyle said he was even more aggressive than usual Saturday because he had yet to find the net.
“When you’re in a slump, I guess as far as scoring is concerned, you have to make something happen,” Boyle said. “You can’t just sit back and wait for it. Try to be smart about it, jump in when I could. I had tons of chances really. Wish I had more, but we’ll take one.”
“Nice to see him rewarded, first of all,” McLellan said of Boyle. “I think he’s been pressing as much as anybody on our team right now to produce some offense and finally got rewarded. He logged a lot of minutes the last two nights. Showed us that he has the stamina to do that. Very smart, intelligent player.”
Smart and fearless, as Boyle showed by going behind the Flyers’ net several times when the Sharks were battling back from behind.
“When you’re down by two you have to gamble a little bit,” McLellan said. “He’s playing with a pretty good partner right now. (Brad Lukowich) has the ability to stay back and cover for him. Again, making good decisions at the right time is real important. Danny makes them most of the time, and we want to see that continue.”
When the Sharks hired McLellan, they expected him to put some power in their anemic power play. Whatever power play tactics he brought with him from the Detroit Red Wings haven’t quite taken hold.
Against the Flyers, San Jose was 1 for 7 on the power play, including one failed 5 on 3. The Sharks also gave up a short-handed goal to Jeff Carter when they got sucked in too close to the Flyers’ goal and got beat on a 2 on 1 break after a long deflection off the boards.
For the season, the Sharks are now 4 of 32 on the power play.
“I wasn’t as concerned tonight,” McLellan said of his team’s trouble scoring on the power play. “I was more concerned about the frustration. The guys did a pretty good job of moving it around. They have a very aggressive penalty kill. The frustration started to creep in after the 5 on 3, but we had a number of real good looks at the net. Sometimes the goal-tender is the best penalty killer, and he was tonight.”
McLellan learns something new about his new team every game. What did he learn Saturday night?
“On the positive side that we’re resilient, we have a little bit of character,” he said. “We found a way to control our frustration when it was starting to show itself. On the negative side, I found we were a little impatient. We had control of a game. Even though we weren’t leading, we were still controlling it. Got impatient once we tied it. But it’s a satisfying night that we were able to dig in and come back.”
Joe Pavelski tied the score 3-3 early in the third period, and an assist should go to Niittymaki.
Pavelski flipped a soft shot from near the blue line between two Flyers and toward Niittymaki and sprinted toward the net. The Flyers’ goalie tried to grab the puck with his glove but it somehow bounced out, directly to Pavelski, who buried the gift in the net.
Pavelski was fortunate, yes. But he was also rewarded for his hustle and for being clever enough to split two defenders with a shot and beat them to the goal.
The Sharks didn’t have a single fight in their first four games. But if you were worried that they had gone soft, rest easy. Since those first four games, there hasn’t been a lot of peace and love on the ice.
The Sharks mixed it up with Anaheim on Friday night. And on Saturday night, the Sharks and Flyers acted as if there were bad blood between them, even though they met exactly one time last season, in February.
Midway through the first period, new Sharks defenseman Rob Blake introduced himself to Flyers center Mike Richards, who was making a dangerous rush toward the net and goalie Evegeni Nabokov.
Trailing Richards, Blake knocked him headfirst into the left post, sending his helmet flying and Richards sprawling on the ice.
Moments later, Steve Downie blasted Blake and a multi-player scrum ensued. Downie and Blake each headed to the penalty box for two minutes for roughing.
That was just the preliminary bout. The main attraction came late in the opening period when the Sharks’ Jody Shelley and Flyers’ Riley Cote started exchanging haymakers. Shelley, a 6-foot-3, 225 brawler, got the better of the 6-1, 210 Cote, knocking his helmet off and pulling his sweater over his head before they were separated.
Both players were hit with 5-minute penalties for fighting.
There was still time for one more free-for-all in the first period, touched off after Flyers’ defenseman Kimmo Timonen gave Boyle a shot to the back. When order was finally restored, three Flyers (Braydon Coburn, Scott Hartnell and Mike Richards) and two Sharks (Mike Grier and Boyle) headed to the penalty box for two-minute stays.
Kudos to the NHL for making a major change in its scheduling and bumping up the number of interconference games this season. The Sharks played their first of 18 games against Eastern Conference teams Saturday night. For the past three years they played just 10 games against the East.
That was a joke. If you’re a hockey fan living in a Western Conference city, you shouldn’t have to wait years to get a chance to see Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby or Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin.
Both of those young superstars are coming to San Jose this season, Crosby on Oct. 28 and Ovechkin on Nov. 22.
You shouldn’t have to wait that long for a chance to see four members of the NHL’s original six – Boston, Toronto, Montreal and the N.Y. Rangers – that have such long, storied histories.
Sharks fans still won’t be guaranteed of seeing every team in the league in person every year. But the Sharks will play each Eastern Conference team at least once every year.
This year Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Atlanta, the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders are coming to the Shark Tank.
Sharks fans can tune in and watch their team play road play road games against Boston, Montreal, Ottawa, Buffalo, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Florida and Tampa Bay.
The Dec. 12 game vs. Toronto will be a homecoming for ex-Sharks coach Ron Wilson. That should be interesting.
Boyle and Lukowich will face their former Tampa Bay teammates twice, on Oct. 25 at Tampa and Jan. 13 in the San Jose.
In an 82-game schedule, the Sharks will still have more than enough chances to face their familiar Western Conference foes.