Whether the final number turns out to be jaw-dropping or just plain impressive, the Sharks’ potent power play was much too good for yet another opponent.
Ryane Clowe had his first three-goal game, Joe Thornton got three assists and the Sharks powered to their third straight victory, 5-2 over the Blue Jackets on Saturday night.
Assuming the first number stands after an NHL review Sunday, all five of San Jose’s goals came on a power play that just keeps getting better. The Sharks have scored a league-best 57 man-advantage goals while converting more than 25 per cent of their chances.
Patrick Marleau had a goal and two assists, and Christian Ehrhoff had a goal and an assist for the Sharks, who have scored 13 power-play goals in their three wins. Those are lofty numbers for a team that struggled on the power play before the arrival of Thornton, who has 145 points in his first 100 games with San Jose.
Thornton, who leads the NHL in power-play assists and points, quarterbacked another outstanding effort after the Sharks scored a franchise-record six power-play goals against Detroit on Thursday night.
“Our work ethic is much better, and our power play is just clicking,” Sharks coach Ron Wilson said.
And as if San Jose’s power play wasn’t formidable enough, the Sharks took advantage of an officiating blunder to get another chance with the man advantage.
After Marleau scored on a tight shot during a 4-on-3 advantage just 4½ minutes into the first period, the referees mistakenly released both Clowe and Columbus’ Manny Malhotra from the penalty box instead of Rostislav Klesla, the second Blue Jackets player off the ice.
In the ensuing 5-on-4, Clowe scored on a rebound. The officials acknowledged the error to Columbus’ bench before the start of the second period, according to a statement from NHL vice president Stephen Walkom – but even the three-goal final deficit didn’t assuage the sting from the mistake.
Hitchcock said he hadn’t seen such a call “in all my years in hockey, nor in all my years in the league, especially since we argued it. We were told it was a new rule. … The whole game was nothing but special teams anyway. That was the game.”
Wilson also didn’t understand the ruling at the time.
“I told them I’d better go look at the rule book myself,” he said. “It was a mistake, and I guess we took advantage.”
Gilbert Brule and Nikolai Zherdev scored power-play goals for the Blue Jackets, who finished a three-game California road trip with two losses and a victory over Western Conference-leading Anaheim. Fredrik Norrena made 28 saves, but Columbus’ penalty-killers couldn’t keep up – and the Blue Jackets played without two injured stars.
Columbus forward Rick Nash and San Jose forward Milan Michalek both sat out with injuries, but the Sharks had more than enough offence to make up for the absence of a leading scorer. The Blue Jackets didn’t – and then they lost centre Sergei Fedorov to an upper-body injury in the first period.
Hitchcock said Nash and Fedorov will be evaluated back in Ohio on Sunday.
“They have the best power play in the league, and they showed why,” Norrena said. “They didn’t miss a single chance. We have to stay out of the box.”
Clowe’s diving goal with 3:42 to play set off a spray of hats at the Shark Tank. Clowe, a depth forward who has struggled to crack the Sharks’ lineup over the last few seasons, had just three goals in his career before scoring five times in the Sharks’ two games.
Four of those goals came on the power play – mostly thanks to the Newfoundland native’s knack for staying tough in front of the net.
“Obviously, they’re not pretty, but they count,” Clowe said. “I don’t think we’re relying on the power play like we did at the start of the year. Now we’re using our 5-on-5 play to create power plays.”
Vesa Toskala made 17 saves in his third straight win for the Sharks.
Notes: Sharks D Josh Gorges didn’t return after going down in a rough collision near the boards in the first period. Columbus also lost D Duvie Westcott to an undisclosed injury. … Brule snapped a 14-game goal drought. … Marleau became the career franchise scoring leader during the win over the Red Wings, and the San Jose captain tied Owen Nolan’s franchise goals record with his 206th in the first period.