SAN JOSE, Calif. – Patrick Rissmiller earned a regular NHL job last year by doing the San Jose Sharks’ most menial tasks and staying far from the spotlight.
The hardworking defensive forward earned plenty of attention Saturday night, and his surprising scoring touch produced yet another abnormality: A home victory for the Sharks.
Rissmiller scored two goals for the first time in his career, and San Jose snapped its five-game winless skid at the Shark Tank with a 3-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Rissmiller, an undrafted 29-year-old who has made himself indispensable as a checking forward, played 138 mostly thankless games over four seasons with San Jose before his first multigoal game.
“My role is more defensive here, checking and killing penalties,” Rissmiller said. “This was one of those nights where the puck was following me around, I guess.”
Both tallies even came on good-looking skill plays – though that uncommon grace only brought him good-natured razzing from his teammates and club executive Mike Ricci.
Steve Bernier also scored and Evgeni Nabokov made 21 saves in his 41st start of the season for San Jose, which inexplicably hadn’t won at home since Dec. 13. The Sharks have an NHL-low seven home wins midway through the regular season, yet they’ve remained among the NHL’s elite teams with the best road record in hockey.
“There’s a sense in this locker room that we were going to get the job done finally,” said Joe Pavelski, whose steal and pass set up Rissmiller’s second goal. “We wanted to give our fans something, because they’ve been pretty supportive of us throughout this whole thing.”
Despite yielding two late goals in a typically shaky home performance, the Sharks took sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division with 52 points, third-most in the NHL behind Detroit and Ottawa.
Sergei Fedorov and Andrew Murray scored third-period goals for the Blue Jackets, who lost in two of their three California stops on a four-game road trip that concludes Tuesday in St. Louis. Columbus held a players-only team meeting for 15 minutes after the game – a rarity in San Jose, where most teams hustle to their chartered planes to beat the airport curfew.
Pascal Leclaire made 13 saves, but was yanked before the third period in favour of Fredrik Norrena. Coach Ken Hitchcock said Leclaire was “not right.”
“I thought both teams came out and battled, and whoever got the lead would have the advantage,” Hitchcock said. “We had a lot of guys play well, but we had a couple under the bar, and that’s disappointing.”
San Jose improved to 12-0-1 in franchise history at home against Columbus, though the Blue Jackets largely shut down the Sharks’ top two lines and held Joe Thornton scoreless in consecutive games for just the fourth time all season.
“We need pressure from other lines,” Wilson said during his latest criticism of captain Patrick Marleau’s play. “They take all the heat that Joe (Thornton) has had on his shoulders, so on nights that a team can shut him down, we have as good a chance of winning.”
After a scoreless first period, Rissmiller screened Leclaire and simultaneously deflected Matt Carle’s shot backward for his first goal in 10 games. Rissmiller didn’t even get to celebrate his third of the season, as the scorers credited it to Carle until the second intermission.
San Jose struck again two minutes later when Columbus defenceman Jan Hejda couldn’t corral a dumped-in puck at his feet. Bernier stole it and immediately fired a wrist shot that beat Leclaire for his 11th goal, his third in four games.
“We didn’t start the period well,” Fedorov said. “They scored a couple of good goals. We would love to play a little bit better on the road.”
Pavelski created Rissmiller’s second goal, stealing the puck behind the Columbus net and outmaneuvering three Blue Jackets to feed Rissmiller in the slot.
“I was wide open, and it went through his legs,” Rissmiller said. “I can’t say I was shooting that way, but it went in.”
Murray ended Nabokov’s shutout bid with 11:34 to play when he circled the net and fired a low shot that somehow got between the goalie’s pad and the post. Murray, who made his NHL debut Dec. 27, got his second goal in five games.
Fedorov scored on a power play two minutes later, and the Shark Tank groaned in anticipation of another San Jose home collapse that never occurred.
Notes: The Sharks have nearly kicked the flu bug that bedeviled much of the roster and coaching staff last week, though Milan Michalek needed intravenous fluids before the game. … The Blue Jackets haven’t been four games above .500 since Nov. 8. … Sharks D Sandis Ozolinsh was a healthy scratch for the third straight game, with Doug Murray playing in his place. … Columbus enforcer Ole-Kristian Tollefsen was a healthy scratch for the sixth straight game.