SAN JOSE, Calif. – The San Jose Sharks have followed up their worst stretch in more than a decade with perhaps their best of the season. The question now is whether they’ve turned a corner or if this is just another blip in an up-and-down season.
Devin Setoguchi scored a pair of goals in the second period to help the Sharks match a season high with their fourth straight win, 4-3 over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night.
The Sharks also won four straight before the Christmas break but followed that with eight losses in 10 games, including six straight defeats that marked the first time since 1995-96 the team went that long without a point.
With only one game in the next nine days because of the all-star break, coach Todd McLellan wants to make sure the Sharks can carry their strong play through this lull in the schedule.
“Four games in a row is nice,” McLellan said. “It reminds me a lot of heading into Christmas. We had our game going well. We were able to play well that last game and went into the break and somehow forgot everything over a 48-hour period, so there is concern there. We only have three more periods left and then guys will get their opportunity to rest and to get focused for the last ride.”
Logan Couture and Benn Ferriero also scored for the Sharks, and Antti Niemi made 23 saves.
Mikko Koivu scored two power-play goals and Brent Burns had a goal and two assists for the Wild, who also had won three straight. Minnesota outscored the opposition 14-1 during the winning streak but fell short for the first time in three meetings this season against San Jose.
“We weren’t very crisp and we didn’t handle the puck very well,” defenceman Clayton Stoner said. “They put a lot of pressure on us and we didn’t handle that. Nobody is happy with that performance.”
The Sharks used a dominant second period to get this win. They had the first 10 shots of the period and peppered Niklas Backstrom with 25 overall in the frame to take a 3-2 lead.
Backstrom came up big throughout the period just to keep Minnesota close, with perhaps his best save coming early when he slid across the goal mouth to rob Joe Pavelski on a one-timer to preserve a 1-1 tie.
That didn’t last long as Setoguchi struck twice after going nine games without a goal. His first came after a great effort from Patrick Marleau, who took a long pass from Dan Boyle and stickhandled though a couple of Minnesota defenders before getting the puck to Setoguchi. Backstrom stopped Setoguchi’s first shot but Setoguchi stayed with it and knocked the rebound into the empty net.
Then with Stoner off for holding, Setoguchi artfully deflected Joe Pavelski’s point shot past Backstrom to make it 3-1 with his ninth goal. That goal wasn’t official until a video review determined Setoguchi’s stick was not too high for the deflection.
“That’s one of the ones where if it was during that six-game stretch they wouldn’t have counted it,” Setoguchi said. “It could have gone either way. It feels good to get it. It’s nice to get up there and contribute.”
Koivu answered with his second goal of the night when his backhander trickled through Niemi. But the Wild couldn’t get the equalizer on a late power play, which was a bad omen considering they had won just once in 19 games this season when trailing after two periods.
That win came against the Sharks late last month, when Minnesota used three third-period goals against Antero Niittymaki to beat San Jose 5-3.
There was no such comeback this time as the Sharks killed off an early power play, Niemi made a tough stop on a point shot from Stoner and then Ferriero added the insurance goal early in the third after Joe Thornton did a good job keeping the puck in the offensive zone.
“All these teams we’re beating right now are ahead of us in the standings so they really are must-win games,” Thornton said. “We have to get points. Another huge game for us tonight.”
Burns got Minnesota back within a goal with 3:25 to play, but the Wild could not complete the comeback.
“We had trouble handling their speed,” coach Todd Richards said. “They were coming extremely hard. You have to give them credit. They’re big and they can skate. Our execution was a little off but they had a lot to do with that the way they were playing.”
The teams traded goals in the first period. The Sharks took advantage of a bad line change for Couture’s goal. The Wild capitalized on a penalty for too many men on the ice to get Koivu’s goal on the two-man advantage.
NOTES: The Sharks posted 25 shots in the second period for the second straight game, tying a team record for that period. … The team with more shots had lost the past seven meetings between these teams. … Minnesota D Nick Schultz left with an upper body injury that will likely keep him out until after the all-star break.