SAN JOSE — The Ottawa Senators discovered Saturday what the San Jose Sharks’ previous four opponents have already learned.
The Sharks are the NHL’s most impressive team in the opening weeks of the season, coming at the Senators in wave after wave en route to a 3-2 victory at the SAP Center.
Brent Burns scored the winner at the 7:08 mark of the third period, only seconds after a penalty to Jason Spezza had expired.
But the score was misleading.
Senators goaltender Robin Lehner, making his first start of the season, got a couple of games’ worth of action, facing 50 shots — including 24 in the third period — keeping the Senators in the game. His 47 saves tied a franchise record for most saves by a Senators goaltender in a regular season game.
The Senators had a couple of late chances to get even, but the Sharks successfully killed off a late power play to preserve the victory and final minute pressure with Lehner on the bench for an extra skater.
Bobby Ryan came within inches of tying the game, but his shot from outside the crease deflected off the glove of Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi and landed on top of the net.
Now, the Senators face the difficult task of going right back at it late Sunday afternoon against the Anaheim Ducks for an afternoon game in Ryan’s return to his old home.
Saturday’s game was deadlocked 2-2 after Patrick Marleau took advantage of the Senators’ weak early-season penalty killing, flipping a backhand over a sprawled Lehner late in the second period.
The Sharks finished off the period pressing hard at the Senators net, regaining control of a game that featured dramatic switches in momentum.
After a dominating start by the Sharks, the Senators took a 2-1 lead late in the first period on a power play goal from Ryan – the first time we’ve seen the Jason Spezza-Ryan connection during the regular season – and an even strength goal from Zack Smith.
For the first half of the second period, the Senators had the better chances, forcing Niemi into making several big saves, including back-to-back stops off Spezza and Ryan on a power play.
The Sharks, however, finished off the period with tremendous pressure on Lehner.
The line of sensational rookie Tomas Hertl (who opened the scoring at the 55-second mark), Joe Thornton and Brent Burns was a physical force. Hertl left the game late in the second period following a collision and didn’t return.
Still, the Sharks, who began the season with a perfect 4-0-0 record, outscoring their opponents 21-5 in the process, had held the lead heading into the third period in every one of their earlier games, establishing themselves as the league’s best team through the opening weeks of the season.
Half a dozen Senators players have never before felt the atmosphere inside the SAP Center and the Sharks’ game plan was simple.
“We have to jump on them in this building,” Sharks centre Logan Couture said before the game. “Teams from the East, especially with young players who haven’t played in this building, they don’t know what it’s like. If we come out the way we want to, it’s tough for teams to get comfortable in this building. We need to do that.”
Senators coach Paul MacLean, quite familiar with the arena from his years with the Detroit Red Wings, says Senators players were made aware of the surroundings beforehand.
But seeing is believing.
The Sharks attacked at the outset, pumping five — count ‘em, five — shots on Lehner by the 55-second mark. The fifth one, from Hertl, found the range. For Hertl, the 19-year-old who created a storm of controversy for scoring between his legs in a four-goal effort last week against the New York Rangers, it was his league-leading seventh goal.
The Sharks didn’t let up after that, circling and circling all around the Senators net. To Lehner, it must have looked like a wall of teal.
Clearly, the Senators need to do something to be more prepared at the outset. They trailed 3-0 in the first period against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday before rallying and losing 4-3 in overtime.
Yet, somehow the Senators managed to stay in the game against the Sharks, despite throwing only two shots at Niemi in the opening 10 minutes of the game. Chris Neil’s fight against the Sharks’ Matt Pelech appeared to slow the Sharks onslaught.
The game turned, for the first time, on a fortunate bounce. Sharks defenceman Matt Irwin cleared the puck directly to Smith in the slot and Smith one-timed a shot over Niemi. Just like that, the game was deadlocked 1-1 and the Senators had life.
Against all odds, the Senators then took a 2-1 lead into the second period on Ryan’s power play goal.
Brent Burns, Sharks
Hard to imagine that former Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire once thought Burns was best used as a defenceman. The 6-5, 230-pound right winger was a danger around the Senators net all game and he scored the winner 7:08 into the third period.
Jason Spezza, Senators
Technically, the Burns game-winning goal didn’t come on the power play, but it came only seconds after Jason Spezza’s penalty for retaliating against the Sharks’ Tommy Wingels had expired. Given the state of Ottawa’s penalty killing to start the season, the Senators must learn to stay out of the penalty box.
WHY THEY LOST
The Senators had their moments late in the first period and early in the second, but the Sharks were just too much for the visitors. By the mid point of the third, the Sharks had doubled the Senators on the shot clock, giving the Senators no scoring chances.
THE BIG HURT-L?
Tomas Hertl, who scored his league-leading seventh goal 55 seconds into the game, left the game late in the second period and didn’t return.
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