Resilient Sharks get by Flames
The Calgary Flames failed to put any distance between themselves and the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
Looking to increase their lead in the Northwest Division, the Flames dropped a 2-1 decision at home to the San Jose Sharks — the NHL's best team this season.
San Jose winger Jonathan Cheechoo returned to score the game-winning goal in the second period. Centre Joe Thornton added a pair of assists, and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov stopped 28 of 29 shots.
Plagued by various injuries this season, Cheechoo missed his team's previous game with a lower body injury, but he made up for it in timely fashion.
With the edge in play through the first part of the second period favouring Calgary, the Sharks rebounded to take a 2-1 lead at 12:24. Cheechoo moved to the high slot before alertly redirecting a Brad Lukowich point shot off the goalpost and behind Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
San Jose defenceman Dan Boyle had opened the game's scoring with a power-play goal in the first period.
The Shark's injury list hasn't been limited to Cheechoo. Team-leading goal scorer Patrick Marleau (lower body), defenceman Rob Blake (lower body), forward Ryane Clowe (lower body procedure) and forward Marcel Goc (lower body) all missed Monday night's game.
Marleau isn't expected to suit up Thursday night in Edmonton.
"Any time you don't have nine players, you want the other guys to step up and play well," Nabokov said. "Our system has changed a little bit. We're not as aggressive and we have to be a little bit smarter, and in a way, I think it's helped us."
Calgary captain Jarome Iginla netted his first goal in seven games, while Kiprusoff made 15 saves.
"I've always told our club and any club that I've ever coached, if you're playing against a team with a lot of injuries, often it's a very dangerous team because you have a lot of people, particularly this time of year, that are receiving more ice time than they ever expected," Flames coach Mike Keenan said.
Although the Flames (43-27-6) remain in first place in their division with 92 points, Vancouver has a game in hand on its rival and trails by only one point.
The Canucks can leapfrog over Calgary with a victory in Minnesota on Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET).
"It's definitely a game we would have liked to have had a better outcome on," Flames winger Curtis Glencross said. "We've got to get right back to work and keep our heads up."
San Jose (50-15-11) continues the lead the NHL standings with 111 points, four ahead of the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
The win marks only the third time in the past 12 games that the Sharks have beaten Calgary at the Saddledome.
Sharks deploy defensive tactics
A physical contest at the onset, San Jose's defensive gameplan limited the Flames' scoring chances.
"We could have played a little bit better offensively, obviously, but at the end of the day, a win is a win and it's a big win at this time of year for us," said Boyle, whose Sharks are 5-1-1 in their last seven games.
Sporting the No. 1 road power player in the NHL this season, San Jose opened the scoring by capitalizing on a five-on-three advantage at 6:11 of the first.
Patiently waiting for one of his teammates to get open, Thornton finally spotted a pinching Boyle, who buried a dive by Kiprusoff. Boyle's 15th goal of the season also snapped a 22-game goalless drought for the defenceman.
Iginla brought the Flames back with his first goal in seven games less than nine minutes later. Racing in on his off wing, Iginla snapped a shot that squeezed through Nabokov's left arm for his 32nd goal.
Iginla leads Calgary with 85 points but has only managed one goal and another assist over his last five games.
The captain nearly sent the Flames ahead more than nine minutes into the second, but his shot from the slot missed the net.
Cheechoo then put San Jose in front for good minutes later.
"It wasn't for lack of effort tonight or for playing poorly," Iginla said. "Unfortunately, we just didn't get the win tonight. We'd like to get a few more shots. I thought we had a pretty fair amount of good scoring chances, even in the third. Unfortunately, they didn't go in tonight."
Calgary's best opportunity to tie the game came at the midway point of the third while on the power play. Just as Mike Cammalleri was about swipe the puck into the open side of the net, Nabokov reached back with his glove to rob the Calgary centre.
"I tried to wait him out. I tried to get it back. He made a good play to get his glove back there," Cammalleri said. "Hindsight's 20-20. Instead of jamming it, I should have just flicked it quicker."
Flames defenceman Cory Sarich left late in the third period after taking a Thornton shot off his right foot.
With the help of a Calgary trainer, Sarich limped straight to the dressing room.
With files from the Canadian Press