Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sharks find a new way to win

So how good are the Sharks?

So good that style points are starting to matter. When they “muck and grind” their way to a 2-0 victory, as coach Todd McLellan described Thursday night’s win over Anaheim, you start to wonder if the flu has hit the entire team.

We not only expect the Sharks to win every game, we also expect them to win with that explosive, high-octane, no-shot-is-a-bad-shot, pinball style of play they have used in their blistering 23-3-2 start. They’re the NHL’s answer to the 2007 New England Patriots, where a win just didn’t feel right unless Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes and the Pats scored at least 30 points.

The Sharks have set the bar higher than Jody Shelley’s pain threshold. And when a 2-0 win has you wondering what went wrong, well, that’s a clear sign that you have a special team.

“It wasn’t quite the kind of game we’ve been playing, the free-flowing game,” McLellan said. … It was good for us to be in a game like that, a little tighter, a little more physical.”

If nothing else, the Sharks proved they could win the old-fashioned way, with defense, lights out goal tending from Evgeni Nabokov and a physical scrum or three.

This is a Sharks team that took 57 shots against Nashville earlier this season. They entered Thursday night’s game averaging 36.1 shots. They’ve been overwhelming opponents with mass quantities of shots on goal.

In their win over Anaheim, the Sharks took only 27 shots and were actually out-shot 30-27. I know, I know. Shocking.

The Sharks hadn’t played a game since Saturday. So that layoff probably had something to do with the sluggish offense. Then there were the Ducks, who have a way of bringing games to a grinding halt.

“They’re a physical team,” McLellan said. “No surprise. They play hard. … That’s the kind of game they play. It’s very effective for them. I thought we did a pretty good job along the boards and in front of the net when we had to.”

The Sharks got a first-period goal from Patrick Marleau, who lasered a shot past Jonas Hiller from just beyond the right face-off circle. Then in the second period, Devin Setoguchi knocked in a rebound from in front of the net.

The way Nabokov was playing, turning back all 31 shots, that was more than enough scoring for the Sharks.

“Nabby’s Nabby,” Setoguchi said. “He’s going to stop the puck when he sees it. He’s an all-star caliber goalie. He played great.”

“When I didn’t see the puck, the guys blocked the puck,” Nabokov said, praising his teammates.

One fact was verified Thursday night. These two teams really don’t like each other. Shelley, the usual fisticuffs suspect, got into an early smack down with Anaheim’s George Parros. No surprise there. But typically mild-mannered forward Milan Michalek was in the middle of a couple scrums and even drew a 10-minute misconduct penalty, as did Anaheim’s Rob Niedermayer. Sharks defenseman Rob Blake drew five minutes for spearing.

“It’s a rivalry game,” said Sharks center Jeremy Roenick. “It’s a big rivalry. We have to keep our dominance at home. It’s always fun. It’s always heated.”

Well, it wasn’t that much fun for Roenick in the first period when Ducks defenseman Brett Festerling knocked him into the boards, sending Roenick to the locker room for treatment.

“Not good,” Roenick said when asked how he felt. “Shoulder came right out.”

Even so, Roenick returned to the ice in the second period when he was hit with two penalties at once, 2:00 for roughing and 2:00 for unsportsmanlike conduct when he argued the call.

“I don’t know what the refs are thinking,” Roenick said. “I don’t know what they’re looking for on penalties anymore. … Sometimes they punish you for working hard.”

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