SAN JOSE, Calif. – Todd McLellan’s problems aren’t like most hockey coaches’ problems – at least not when his San Jose Sharks are at home, where he still hasn’t overseen a regulation loss since he took the job.
When Joe Thornton led the overall NHL leaders to yet another gaping early lead Tuesday night, McLellan found himself more worried about complacency than competition – about making sure his Sharks finish as sublimely as they start.
His players were listening in a 7-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning that propelled them into two games later in the week that almost certainly won’t be so simple.
Against the short-handed, road-weary Lightning, McLellan acknowledged the Sharks ended up a bit more worried about embarrassing their guests than just beating them.
“You don’t want the score to get up too high, but you don’t want guys to develop bad habits out there (either),” said McLellan, who will coach the West team at the All-Star game.
“We were fortunate to take advantage of a team that was tired and obviously wounded. We thought if we could keep up the pressure, they would get into penalty trouble and we could take advantage of it.”
Thornton had two goals and an assist, Evgeni Nabokov made 24 saves and 13 players recorded a point as San Jose opened a four-game homestand by improving to an incredible 20-0-2 at the Shark Tank this season after playing just once at home in the past three weeks.
San Jose still hasn’t lost a regular-season game at home in regulation since last Feb. 14, a span of 31 games. With seven of their next eight games at home, the Sharks are within striking distance of the Canadiens’ NHL record of 37 consecutive home games with at least one point in the late 1970s – although Montreal had it tougher, since overtime losses weren’t worth one point in those days.
But San Jose’s streak gets two stiff tests later this week with visits from Calgary and Detroit, which lead the Western Conference’s other two divisions.
Milan Michalek had a goal and two assists against the Lightning as San Jose improved to 32-5-5 with its highest goal total and margin of victory this season.
“We came out flat in the second period, but we’re such a resilient team that it doesn’t really bother us,” said Devin Setoguchi, who had San Jose’s first goal and an assist. “We talked about it between the second and third (periods). Good habits are hard to keep, and bad habits are hard to break.”
Ryane Clowe, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Plihal added goals as the slick-skating Sharks piled on Tampa Bay backup goalie Karri Ramo, who made 35 saves in the Lightning’s first visit to San Jose in nearly three years. Tampa Bay’s young, injury-filled defence stood little chance against the Sharks, and coach Rick Tocchet knew it.
“The guys tried back there, but it’s tough,” Tocchet said. “It’s asking a lot of these guys to come up and play against Thornton and those guys. That’s a tall order. When you give this team any momentum with their power play, you’re done. We got it to 2-1, and for a five-minute stretch there I thought we could squeak something out there, but then we took a rash of penalties.”
Steven Stamkos scored for the Lightning, whose five-game road trip ended with a thud after three earlier victories, including back-to-back wins at Anaheim and Los Angeles. Tampa Bay fell well short of its first three-game sweep of the NHL’s three California clubs since the 1993-94 season.
Setoguchi scored less than 2 1/2 minutes in when he won a race for a dumped-in puck and then got it back for a one-timer from Thornton, who added his first goal later in the period.
Michalek appeared to score early in the second, but the San Jose forward’s goal was overturned on video review when officials decided the puck was kicked into the net. A few seconds later, Stamkos tipped home Mark Recchi’s long shot for his fifth goal of the season.
But Thornton replied with a quick rebound goal in front of Ramo, clinching the first multigoal game of the season for one of the NHL’s best passers. Michalek finally got a goal late in the period when Tampa Bay defenceman Andrej Meszaros failed to keep him away from a rebound in front of the net late in a power play.
“We got one goal back and had them on their heels a little, but then the penalties came,” Stamkos said. “We need to stay more disciplined, especially against a great team like this. San Jose is very skilled. They move the puck so well and have a great goalie. There are no holes in their game. Their transition game is great and their power play is great.”
Clowe slapped home another power-play goal four seconds before the period ended, getting his 18th goal of the season. Pavelski and Plihal added easy goals in the first 2 1/2 minutes of the third period, but Tocchet left Ramo in the game and rested starter Mike Smith, who played against the Kings on Monday night.
Notes: Dan Boyle, San Jose’s all-star defenceman, faced Tampa Bay for the second time since the Lightning traded him to the Sharks in the off-season. … The Lightning have yielded seven goals in three different games this season, with each of their three goalies getting one of the losses. … San Jose D Brad Lukowich missed his third straight game with a hernia that might require surgery. The Sharks hope Lukowich will miss only a few games around the upcoming all-star break.