Not quite Halloween, but all the same ... freaky.
The league-leading San Jose Sharks won their second game in 24 hours Sunday when they defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-2. Saturday night in Montreal they shut out the Canadiens 2-0.
The Ottawa match featured magicians, pickpockets, animals, pirates, things that go bump in the night – well, in the late afternoon, anyway – and even one character with the ability to change costumes between shifts: superhero one moment, goat the next.
That would be Erik Karlsson. More on him later.
The Senators played a now-familiar role against the Sharks, falling behind early and then hoping to make it all back before the buzzer – a foolhardy strategy against a team that is now 10-1-1 to start the season.
“It’s going to be a hell of a long year if that’s our recipe,” said a disappointed Ottawa captain Jason Spezza. “We can’t keep giving teams 2-0 leads,” head coach Paul MacLean said. “We chased the game all night.”
How that 2-0 Sharks lead came about was very much in keeping with the strange and mysterious holiday coming this Thursday.
Goaltenders, it is well known, are renowned for their eccentricities and peculiarities – from knitting one’s own underwear to throwing up before games – but everyone who has ever played the position can agree on two truths: beware the bouncing puck and fear the curved-blade backhand.
Ottawa’s Craig Anderson ran into both goalie phobias early on. Barely a minute into the match he watched the puck do a fair impression of a Mexican jumping bean as it danced through the feet of defenceman Joe Corvo, only to be cuffed into the short side by the stick of San Jose rookie Tomas Hertl.
Hertl – the season’s earliest hockey sensation for his four-goal night against the New York Rangers earlier this month, the fourth a between-the-legs shot complete with mustard and relish – had not scored in six matches, but now has eight for the season and remains in the early running for rookie of the year.
Anderson’s second bad moment came on a rush that grew out of an ill-considered pinch by Karlsson that left the young defence star loitering up ice while the Sharks charged into the Ottawa zone. Andrew Desjardins picked up a rebound on his backhand, instead of trying to turn to the forehand as most do, fired a hard-to-read shot past Anderson.
Desperate to make up for his faux pas, Karlsson began playing like a man possessed. He was all over the ice until finally, halfway through the opening period, centre Kyle Turris slipped a pass to Karlsson and the 2012 Norris Trophy winner fired a hard shot past Sharks goaltender Alex Stalock, who was starting his very first NHL game.
Karlsson went from triumph to a second disaster before the period was out when, on an Ottawa power play, he lost the puck at the blueline, allowing Logan Couture, who had scored both Sharks goals in their Saturday night shutout of the Canadiens, to race down the ice on a breakaway.
Anderson slid out of his crease on Couture’s deke and made the initial stop but the puck lay untouched in his crease, and before Anderson could get back to cover it the puck had been shovelled in by Tommy Wingels for a short-handed goal.
“An unnecessary goal you don’t want to give away,” Karlsson conceded.
“Short-handed goals are always momentum changers,” MacLean said.
The Senators did draw to within one goal again at the nine-minute mark of the second period when, on a delayed penalty to the Sharks, defenceman Marc Methot put a shot from the left point past Stalock.
Methot’s shot had been set up by, of course, Karlsson, once again the hero.
Early in the third period the Sharks sealed the Senators’ fate when, on another glaring giveaway – this time by forward Erik Condra – the Sharks’ James Sheppard was able to one-time a Joe Thornton pass behind Anderson.
A few minutes later, the Senators again coughed up a puck, this time on a partial whiff by Jared Cowen on a shot from the point that led to a Sharks rush and Joe Pavelski bunting the puck into the Ottawa.
Curiously, the Senators considerably outshot the Sharks by a 40-29 margin, yet the margin of play was just as lopsided in favour of San Jose. They dominated the Senators with their speed and passing, whereas the Senators’ breakout success was, at times, disastrous.
As for Stalock – a winner in his first official NHL start – he thought he was fortunate to see a lot of Ottawa shots early that were easily played.
He also thought he lucked into a rare 5 p.m. start.
“It’s a little easier than sitting around all day thinking about it,” he joked.
The Senators, on the other hand, will have two days to think about it: off to Chicago to play the Stanley Cup defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, the third strong Western Conference team in a row that they will have met.
The Anaheim Ducks (who beat the Senators 2-1 on Friday), Sharks and Blackhawks all seem to know who they are. Not so much the Senators.
“We’ve talked about our identity,” MacLean said. “What is it?”
His team’s inability to come back is in stark contrast to last year, when his charges proudly began calling themselves the “Pesky Sens.”
“Our concern is we’re becoming something we aren’t,” MacLean added.
Which, of course, is the appeal of Halloween.
But it’s only supposed to last the one day.
Follow me on Twitter: @RMacGregor
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