NEWARK, N.J. – Two days after being a healthy scratch against Buffalo, Matt Nieto had the perfect response for San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan.
Nieto returned to the lineup and scored the game-winning goal at 6:20 of the third period and the Sharks defeated the New Jersey Devils 4-2 on Sunday.
“Whenever you get a chance to be in the lineup, you have to have a positive impact and that’s something I try to do whenever I am in,” Nieto said.
Nieto not only returned to the lineup, he replaced Brent Burns on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. It worked out just fine, with Nieto also getting a great chance in the first period, breaking in from the left boards.
“It’s so easy playing with those guys,” said Nieto, who now has seven goals in 48 games and also played a key role as the Sharks killed off all four Devils’ power plays. “I just have to retrieve pucks for them, and when I get it to them, go to the net and get open.”
The winner came on a counterattack after goaltender Alex Stalock made five of his 21 saves, including a two-on-none save against Patrik Elias.
Thornton made a pass from the left boards to Pavelski in the middle of the ice. He found Nieto coming down the right side and the forward ripped a shot into the top corner of the net.
“I had a couple of chances in the first period and wasn’t able to elevate the puck,” Nieto said. “We knew in the pre-scout that we needed to get pucks high on this guy so I shot it high, and luckily it went by.”
McLellan said he was not sending Nieto a message by sitting him the previous game. He just wanted to get some other players in the lineup. The coach admitted, he got the message, if Nieto was sending him one.
“We have to listen, too,” he said. “He played well.”
Logan Couture and Raffi Torres also scored and U.S. Olympian Joe Pavelski had the primary assists on the tying and winning goals as the Sharks won for the fifth time in six games. They were 2-1 on the road trip after the Olympics.
Patrick Marleau iced the game with a breakaway goal with 2:25 to play, his 25th of the season.
Adam Henrique and Patrik Elias scored for the Devils, who had a two-game, post-Olympic break winning streak snapped. Cory Schneider had 18 saves for New Jersey, which was playing its third game in four days.
“We did a lot of good stuff,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. “We gave ourselves a chance under a tough circumstance to get points and it didn’t happen.”
The Sharks and Devils took turns taking the lead in the second period that featured four goals.
Couture and Torres, who returned to the Sharks’ lineup after the Olympic break, scored in the second period and each has three goals since returning.
Henrique, who has four goals since the break, and Elias, who has two, tallied for the Devils.
Couture snapped a scoreless tie at 3:26 of the period, putting in the rebound of a Marleau deflection into an open net. Schneider contributed to the goal by playing the puck poorly behind his own net to set up a point shot by Jason Demers.
Henrique tied the score a little more than a minute later, depositing a nice cross-ice pass from the right corner by Steve Bernier into an open net for his career-best 18th goal.
Elias put New Jersey ahead about 10 minutes later, deflecting a point shot by rookie defenceman Jon Merrill past Stalock.
The lead stood for 92 seconds as Torres and Pavelski worked a beautiful give-and-go on a 2-on-1 break that led to Torres’ third goal. He missed the Sharks’ first 59 games while recovering from knee surgery. He scored twice in his debut against Philadelphia on Thursday and sat out Friday’s game against Buffalo.
NOTES: This was Larry Robinson’s first game back at the Prudential Center since the former Devils assistant and head coach left to join Todd McLellen’s staff in San Jose. … This was LW Ryane Clowe’s first game against the team that drafted him in 2001. … Devils captain Bryce Salvador (collarbone) and RW Damien Brunner (leg) each missed their second straight game after being hurt on Thursday.