The San Jose Sharks are sort of forgotten in the Pacific. It's understandable. The LA Kings and Anaheim Ducks are playing like the power houses they were assumed to be before the season started. But the Sharks are only four points behind Anaheim thanks to having a fully charged and mostly healthy forward core that should make any blueline nervous.
For most of the game, they did. San Jose would end up with a favorable 80 to 33 Corsi For advantage (all situations). The high danger area chances were a comical 24 to 8. The word "deserve" doesn't have much value to the hockey gods, but to the extent that it has any meaning whatsoever, Dallas probably deserved a lesser fate. But Antti Niemi deserved a win for his performance, and so win Dallas did.
Joe and Burns are just mad because Eaves and Jordie are out-bearding them— Squeakin (@DarioMouse) March 26, 2016
Pavelski and Burns quickly turned that beard envy into Corsi envy. Patrik Nemeth and Jordie Benn both began the game with downy soft passes that resulted in turnovers and scoring chances in their own zone, but they were hardly the only ones. A lack of communication with the forwards, and forwards themselves flying the coup led to to a lot of vulcanized rubber thrown Niemi's way. It was a modest miracle Dallas wasn't down five minutes into the game. The good news is that there was a nasty little playoff vibe, complete with a goon cameo (Michael Haley) and hair pulling.
2. Calder Spark Horse
Mattias Janmark is tied for 9th in goal scoring & 4th in non-PP goals among all rookies. He's tied with Eichel & Domi in the latter category— Josh Bogorad (@JoshBogorad) March 26, 2016
For all of the lamentations over Jordie's play, he earned that assist on Janmark's first goal of the night, doing what hockey gods require in order entertain us: throwing the puck at the net hoping for something positive. The forward core has become very tight this season with Brett Ritchie imposing his will, and Radek Faksa quickly becoming as essential as the other veteran forwards. It's become so tight, that I was starting to wonder if fans weren't missing Janmark the way they should have. Thankfully, the fresh faced Swede was kind enough to remind Stars fans.
3. Four-Leaf Rover
What was Jordie doing???? Put that next to Matt Hedges in Houston. #OwnGoal— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) March 26, 2016
I know Jordie's gaffe was in the third period, but he wound up with the least amount of playing time among all defensemen. Dallas wound up generating the bulk of their chances in the second period. Jason Spezza would once again connect with Janmark as the two usually do and then...
4. Patrick Star Swish
Sharp's goal was his first since February 20th. He had played 9 games without scoring and missed 6 others with injury.— Josh Bogorad (@JoshBogorad) March 26, 2016
Patrick Sharp would give Dallas a three goal lead thanks to some shifty work on the Power Play. He's been noticeably silent but I'm kind of okay with that; after all, he's no longer playing with BennGuin, but he keeps playing his two-way game. I'm more interested in Sharp doing what he does best in the playoffs.
5. Antti Yup
I remain so impressed with Niemi's pad work. Very crisp.— Kate Cimini (@k_cimini) March 26, 2016
One of the most important parts of Dallas' game is that they've gone 34 for 35 on the PK over the last 11 games which is good for 14th at 81.8 percent. It's a nice collective effort on the part of the forwards (like Radek Faksa) and the defensemen (like Stephen Johns). But the improved goaltending is the other factor.
I'm glad Antti Niemi had a really good game because even Kari Lehtonen at his best has been somewhat inconsistent. There's also the fact he has a better 5 on 5 save percentage per 60 minutes of play while seeing less dangerous chances against: do the Stars play better with Niemi in net? This game was a major two by four upside that theory's head, so correlation is not causation. Still, correlations can be enough when everything else is equal. And right now, both goaltenders are playing equally capable.
6. Smile, You Son of a Trawl
Dallas would give up two goals in the third thanks to Jordie's aforementioned pass, and some awful defensive play in front of Niemi, but they survived thanks to Niemi, and their league leading empty net assault. On to some stray observations...
- I think the hierarchy is quite clear at this point. When healthy, Dallas' "Big D" should be Goligoski, Klingberg, Oduya, Demers, Russell, and Johns. It may not be ideal, or fit the profile of a Cup winner, but it's a decent stable of completely capable defenders with just the right mixture of youth and experience.
- That Thornton pass that led to a breakaway thanks to Cody Eakin doubling up on Goose's man was god awful. Forget Jordie's turnover. That was the worst play of the night in my opinion and by a wide margin because Eakin's mistake was deliberately clueless. Eakin is fine when putting pressure in the opponent's zone and he's a completely serviceable player who I have no problem with as a depth forward in a sheltered role. But this talk about Seguin at wing because Eakin is "forcing Ruff's hand" when it comes to the center position has me cuckoo.
- Quick hits on the Texas Stars' win over the #1 team in the Pacific (Nashville's farm team): great game with a brilliance pace. Mattias Backman, Ranford, and Gemel Smith were some of the better players last night with a nice assist from none other than Jack Campbell. Legace got pulled after Texas hang him out to dry, and Laxdal tried to send the team a message, which they received loud and clear, digging themselves out of a 3-0 hole halfway through the game, ultimately winning 5-4 in the shootout . Campbell let in one goal in relief, but looked confident despite the rust he had to shake. Looking good in the shootout against names like Kevin Fiala should make any Stars fan stand up and cheer even if his future with the Stars looks bleak.