SAN JOSE – Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the Sharks’ three-game sweep of their homestand is that they seemingly improved their performance with each passing victory.
A one-goal, overtime win against Anaheim on Tuesday was followed by a two-goal triumph against Columbus on Thursday, which was followed by a three-goal conquest over Nashville on Saturday night, 4-1.
Against the Predators, the Sharks scored a pair of five-on-five goals after not having any in their last three games. The Red Wings game a week ago was an egg, but they were confident that if they repeated the type of game they threw at the Ducks and Blue Jackets, they would eventually find even strength success.
They were right.
“It's nice that the guys are starting to get rewarded for the pressure that they're putting on the other team,” coach Pete DeBoer said.
In the first period, Joonas Donskoi opened the scoring when the Sharks swarmed the zone following a misplay by Pekka Rinne, who came way out of his goal crease when it probably wasn’t necessary. He made it back to the blue paint eventually, but still couldn’t prevent Donskoi from whacking one through.
A power play goal by Joe Pavelski early in the second period upped the lead to 2-0, and just 17 seconds later the fourth line contributed a Tommy Wingels marker.
“Our line's had some good chances in the past few games, tonight as well,” Wingels said. “Certainly nice to get one there.”
Defensively, the Sharks surrendered just one goal in each of their three wins on the homestand. That starts with Martin Jones, who won all three games while stopping 70 of 73 shots (.959 save percentage), including 27 of 28 against the Predators.
The key save on Saturday came early in the second period and the Sharks ahead 1-0, when he rebuffed Craig Smith on a breakaway. The Pavelski and Wingels scores soon followed.
“[Smith] didn’t have a lot of time down the wing there so I knew I could be aggressive and take away a lot of the net,” Jones said.
Nashville, though, wouldn’t go away, desperately trying to break out of a rough start to the season while getting at least a modicum of revenge against the club that ended its Stanley Cup dreams in last year’s playoffs. They gave themselves a chance with a late second period goal by James Neal on a deflection, cutting the Sharks’ lead to 3-1, and came out for the third with alacrity.
The Sharks were hemmed into their own end for long stretches, and were out-attempted 29-9 in the final frame, but Nashville couldn’t get another marker. Some key shot blocks, including a spectacular effort by Brent Burns on Colton Sissons, preceded Joe Thornton’s empty net goal that put it away.
Although Nashville is struggling at just 2-5-1, few expect them to be buried in the Central Division basement forever. Their push was not shocking.
“They’re a good team,” Jones said. “In the third we were probably defending a little more than we wanted to, but we did a great job in front of the net and blocking shots.”
The Sharks’ 26 blocks was a season-high.
Pavelski said: “There's been a lot of commitment. Tonight you saw there were a lot of guys blocking shots.”
Encouragingly, the Sharks showed they could still keep up with a team that is considered fast. It was concerning when they were badly outskated in losses to the Rangers and Red Wings, especially after San Jose’s lack of swiftness was exposed by the Penguins in last June’s Stanley Cup Final.
"I never was concerned about our speed,” DeBoer said. “I think when we play our game, [when] we're on our game…I only saw one team faster than us last year, and that was Pittsburgh.”
Wingels said: "We feel we can play fast. We're confident in our ability to skate with any team in this league.”
Now 4-0 at home, the Sharks (6-3-0) will make a quick trip to play lowly Arizona on Tuesday before returning home for a couple more. They appear to be rounding into form.
“A good week,” Pavelski said.