Lights go out in Pittsburgh, Patrick Marleau provides red light goal illumination in 3-2 OT victory over HBO Penguins

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Thursday, February 24, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Patrick Marleau game winning goal in overtime against the Pittsburgh Penguins

Oversaturation is an unfamiliar word to the National Hockey League. After a quartet of inside looks on HBO, multiple nationally televised games on broadcast television and on cable, and the hype surrounding the Winter Classic extravaganza, one south bay area fan was frustrated upon seeing the Capitals against the Penguins featured again earlier this week on Versus. “I don’t care about the Eastern Conference,” he exclaimed at a local watering hole to no one in particular. That fan may get more than he asked for. After the Sharks 3-2 win over a limping Pittsburgh Penguins squad at the Consol Energy Center on Wednesday night, they will face a grand total of one Eastern Conference team in their final 20 games. The New York Rangers visit HP Pavilion on March 12th. Given the heightened tensions, and the heightened play in the West, that is a daunting prospect.

Wednesday night still afforded Sharks fans a unique opportunity to compare the Capitals and the Penguins up close, albeit two watered down lineups due to a number of significant injuries. The new-look, defensively responsible Washington Capitals dropped a 3-2 game at San Jose last Thursday. The game was not as close as the scoreboard suggests, and in the third period Alexander Ovechkin was chasing the play defensively and making erratic and exaggerated runs at puck carriers. From ice level, comparing the defensive games of a Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to that of an Ovechkin, Semin or Backstrom is a mismatch. Among other statistics, Thornton is the NHL leader in takeaways and his defensive dedication has been shades of Pavel Datsyuk. When he is on Marleau is one of the top unheralded defensive players and penalty killers in the NHL. When he lines up alongside Joe Pavelski, they alter the amount of risk opposing teams will take with the man advantage. Combined, both have registered 19 goals and 7 assists shorthanded over the last three seasons.

Even without a Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, young center Mark Letestu, Paul Martin and Eric Tangradi among the other walking wounded, the Pittsburgh Penguins play a decidedly different on-ice style than Washington. Comcast Sportsnet California analyst Drew Remenda noted that the Pens like to play a more structured game, and body up opponents to seperate them from the puck more than Detroit and Washington did. It was a gameplan that nullified the Sharks forecheck early. Then San Francisco born defenseman Brooks Orpik left in the first period after being hit by a Patrick Marleau slap shot, and the complexion of the game changed. “Early in the game we tried to pick our way through the neutral zone. It wasn’t working,” San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan told reporters. “Once we got pucks in behind them, made their 5 play a full 200 foot game versus maybe a 100 foot game, it made a big difference.”

Pittsburgh center Tyler Kennedy made the Sharks pay for a mistake early. The back end is still adapting to new defensive acquistion Ian White. White played the puck too hard around the end boards to partner Niclas Wallin, and a pair of Pittsburgh shots on goal off traffic left a juicy rebound for Kennedy. Kennedy punched it home from the right side of Antti Neimi. After an awkward 19 minute delay due to a power outage, Logan Couture added his 25th goal of the season on a behind the net feed from Devin Setoguchi.

The Sharks were playing the second night of back-to-backs, after earning a difficult 4-3 win at Detroit on Tuesday. A pair of games in 24 hours against teams that had won 3 Stanley Cup Championships and lost in the Finals twice over the last 10 years. Thank the NHL schedule makers. As with the success against Washington, San Jose would build on its 6-0-1 streak against the Penguins. Repeatedly getting the puck deep, it finally paid off early in the third period when Patrick Marleau pressured defenseman Kris Letang along the end boards. Letang made a pass around the wall directly to Dany Heatley. Marleau then beat Letang off the wall, and tucked a pass from Heatley around goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

It looked like the Sharks would close out yet another tight 2-1 win. Letang’s stick snapped as he moved to dump the puck into the zone, and Logan Couture pounced on the loose puck. He dribbled a long shot just wide of the net, and the Penguins would make him pay for the miss. After Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle was hammered at the side of the net as he tried to clear the puck, Pittsburgh center Tyler Kennedy buried the game tying goal with 50 seconds left from the same position as his first tally.

The Sharks had a quality opportunity to end the game in overtime when Thornton stepped up to newly acquired defenseman Matt Niskanen in the neutral zone, forcing a turnover. Thornton hit Marleau with a quick up pass, and the former Sharks captain quickly had 3-4 strides on the next closest Penguin. The left shooting Marleau went for a backhand to forehand move up high, with an exaggerated break of the wrists in between. Fleury gobbled up the move with a spectacular glove save. “I probably should have finished it on the first one, he did make a good save. It probably wasn’t one of my strongest moves,” a humble Marleau noted after the game.

With 5.3 seconds left in overtime and fans preparing for an OT shootout, defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic fired a shot on goal from the point. Logan Couture banged at the rebound in front as the Pittsburgh defense collapsed on him. The puck trickled to the Tyler Kennedy area in front of the net (the right side), and Marleau lifted a shot over the leg pad of Fleury. The 2 points in the standings helped the Sharks attain the top spot in the Pacific Division for the first time since the opening week of the season. They leapfrogged a hot Phoenix Coyotes team, who had their 8 game winning streak snapped with a disasterous start by backup goaltender Jason LaBarbera. In the Sharks last 17 contests, they have earned a blistering 14-2-7 record.

“Right now the way the standings are, we have to be up for every game,” Patrick Marleau told reporters. “That is our mindset, we have to keep winning. Every other team seems to keep winning, so we have to get our points and worry about our game. Tonight it was a big game.” San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan agreed, and noted that after a cool first half of the season a few players are starting to heat up. “We understand where we are, and what we continue to need to do,” McLellan said. “I think a lot of players were disappointed in their first half. I don’t know if you can make ammends for it, but they are doing everything in their power to make up for it, play the right way, and play for each other.”

Game Notes:

GAME NOTES: Patrick Marleau lead both teams with a game high 7 shots on goal. Devin Setoguchi, Ryane Clowe, Matt Cooke and Michael Rupp each recorded a game high 4 hits. Antti Niemi (22-15-3, .919SV%, 2.43GAA, 5SO) stopped 24 of 26 shots against for his 22nd win of the season. In 2011, Niemi has registered a 14-6-1 record with a 1.99GAA, .935SV% and 4SO. Center Scott Nichol, defenseman Kent Huskins and Justin Braun were scratches for the game. The Sharks maintained more consistent line combinations than the mixed and matched elements utilized on Tuesday night in Detroit. “It goes game by game. It really does,” Todd McLellan said. “Depending on what the other team does, depending on matches, depending even on faceoff situations. Different needs to move people around. Tonight was pretty solid. Jumbo and Seto are obviously finding a way to connect. I liked Logan on that line. I thought Patty’s line did a good job. Everybody found a way to contribute. When they are doing that, you don’t have to shuffle it as much.”

In their Pittsburgh debut, newly acquired winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen provided a much need influx of healthy bodies. Neal registered 20:48 of ice time in 24 shifts, and played 2:12 on the first power play unit. After scoring 20 goals in each of his first 3 seasons, the 6-foot-2, 208-pound left wing is still in the developing stage of his career, but he could provide good size and goal scoring in tight for the Penguins for a number of years. Other than his turnover to Thornton, 4th year defenseman Matt Niskanen provided a workmanlike effort and stepped up in the abscence of Orpik with 19:33 TOI. The moves by Colorado, Dallas and San Jose to acquire puck moving defenseman Erik Johnson, Alex Goligoski and Ian White could be considered a trend for the Western Conference, and for the Pacific Division in particular. With games getting tighter in the offensive and neutral zones, the first pass out of the defensive zone to start the transition gains more importance. After losing Carle, Ehrhoff and Blake in successive seasons, the Sharks may have lost too much of that puck moving ability during the first half of the season. The trade for Ian White addresses that short term, but the development of blue chip defenseman Jason Demers and Justin Braun could have the Sharks well positioned for several years down the line.

This is the second time in as many games the lights have dimmed inside the Consol Energy Center after the first period. The lights dimmed again two days earlier while the Washington Capitals were visiting. In the home opener of the 2007-08 season against the Boston Bruins, the HP Pavilion sounded as if it collectively blew a fuse during the pre-game warmups. Without a national anthem, and with in-house services being restored one or two at a time, the Sharks dropped a 2-1 contest in what is known as the Power Outage game. As noted by the excellent Empty Netters blog, Northern California born Brooks Orpik recently became the all-time games played leader for California-born players. Two games in front of Oakland’s Lee Norwood and 197 in front of former Shark and Hanford native Scott Parker, Orpik left the first period Wednesday night with an injury and could miss a month. Empty Netters also provided on-ice and off-ice looks at the Sharks visit to Pittsburgh yesterday. The Pensblog offers additional insight but no free candy here. On Thursday the Penguins traded a conditional draft pick for veteran forward, part time pilot and Sharkspage favorite Alexei Kovalev. To be honest, I thought he was still on Montreal despite playing his last 131 games for the Ottawa Senators. Not a good sign for the venerable one.

[Update] Penguins fall in overtime to Sharks, 3-2, Orpik injures hand in first period – Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

[Update2] Sharks win thriller in Pittsburgh, beat Penguins 3-2 in OT – Fear the Fin.

[Update3] NHL Hit of the Night: Matt Cooke on Jason Demers – ESPN.

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