SAN JOSE, Calif. — A key goal from the second power-play unit. Another shutout from the backup goalie. Strong defence despite an injury to shut-down defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
The depth that has been lacking at times in recent years in San Jose is a key reason why the Sharks are now on the brink of returning to the playoffs in their first year under coach Peter DeBoer.
Tomas Hertl scored a power-play goal in the latest contribution from San Jose’s second unit and James Reimer earned his second shutout in four starts with the Sharks in a 3-0 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday night.
“Any line can score. Any line is dangerous,” forward Joe Thornton said. “Pete does a good job of just rolling lines, too. There’s no matching, just go out and play. I think guys get in rhythms that way. … We’re a very, very deep team right now.”
Joel Ward scored his 20th goal, Joe Pavelski added an empty-netter and Joonas Donskoi had two assists for the Sharks, who have won a season-high four straight home games to move to the brink of clinching the playoffs. After missing the post-season last year for the first time since 2003, San Jose can seal up a bid this season with one more victory.
Reimer, acquired late last month in a trade from Toronto, made 25 saves and has allowed just two goals in winning his last three starts for the Sharks. Reimer has 13 career shutouts.
"It's pretty fun," Reimer said. "It's always a good time when things are going your way. It's hard to take credit for that one tonight, I thought our team played one of the better games I've seen them play in a long time."
Mike Smith made 32 saves for the Coyotes, who were shut out for the second straight night.
When you are struggling to put the puck in the net, it seems it's a lot harder to get it going.
The Sharks have long relied on their top power-play unit featuring Pavelski, Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Brent Burns for success. But in a sign of the increased depth in San Jose this season it has been the lower-profile second unit coming up big of late.
While the top unit has uncharacteristically struggled to enter the offensive zone cleanly and generate good scoring opportunities of late, San Jose's three power-play goals in the past four contests have come from the second unit.
Hertl came through in this game with help from a fortunate bounce. He took a pass from Donskoi near the side of the net and as he tried to slide a pass across, the puck deflected off defenceman Connor Murphy's stick and past Smith for Hertl's 18th goal, making it 2-0.
"You need that second unit, that second wave and they've come through huge lately," said Pavelski, who added a power-play goal into the empty net late in the game.
The Sharks controlled the play early before Patrick Marleau was called for high-sticking with Justin Braun already in the penalty box. San Jose killed 39 seconds of the two-man advantage and the rest of Marleau's penalty, setting the tone for the rest of the night.
"We dropped the ball as a unit and we can't do that," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "We had decent chances. We're not executing, we're not making the simple play at times and sometimes those are the best plays."
The Sharks took the lead less than a minute later. Donskoi won the puck behind the net and fed Brenden Dillon at the point. Dillon's shot deflected off Ward, off the inside of the post and into the net.
NOTES: Burns assisted on Pavelski's goal giving him 65 points, breaking Sandis Ozolinsh's franchise record for defencemen. ... Thornton has points in San Jose's last 28 wins. ... Coyotes D Nicklas Grossmann was scratched with a lower-body injury and D Oliver Ekman-Larsson missed his sixth straight game with a shoulder injury.