Lightning blast Sharks, 5-1

Curtis Pashelka, The Mercury News on

Published in Hockey

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The San Jose Sharks couldn't complete a line change or get control of the puck. All they could do, it seemed, was watch the puck as it zipped around their own zone.

The Tampa Bay Lightning connected on at least six passes inside the Sharks' defensive zone in one second-period stretch Wednesday before Steven Stamkos fed Vladislav Namestnikov right in front of the net for a tap-in goal.

Namestnikov's goal was part of a dominant second period for the Lightning, which went on to a convincing 5-1 win at SAP Center, halting the Sharks' win streak at four.

The Sharks also allowed second period goals by Nikita Kucherov and Slater Koekkoek. as goalie Martin Jones stopped just 17 of 21 shots and was pulled in favor of Aaron Dell for the start of the third. Dell allowed a power play goal at the 6:14 mark of the third by Namestnikov, who finished with two goals and an assist as part of an impressive night for Tampa Bay's top line.

Namestnikov's first goal was a prime example of how every time the Sharks found themselves even slightly out of position, the Lightning either created a quality scoring chance or made San Jose pay with a highlight-reel score.

Joonas Donskoi had the Sharks lone goal in the first two periods, scoring just 25 seconds into the first period for his fifth goal of the season. Slowly, though, the Lightning began to exert its will over a Sharks team that has prided itself on tight checking hockey.

The Sharks had done a decent job of slowing down the top scorer of each of their past five opponents, holding Rickard Rakell, Filip Forsberg, Auston Matthews, Evander Kane and Brad Marchand to a combined one goal, two assists and 12 shots on goal.

Through two periods though, the Lightning's top line of Stamkos, Namestnikov and Kucherov had combined for six points. They each finished with three points and forward Yanni Gourde, a former Sharks farmhand, had two assists.

The Sharks began the game with a bang as a Brent Burns pass out of San Jose's zone led to a 2 on 1 with Donskoi and Joe Thornton.

Donskoi got a backhand shot away, but a few seconds later, got open in the slot, took a pass from Thornton and beat Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy for a 1-0 Sharks lead.

Tampa Bay responded at the 7:17 mark of the first, as defenseman Jake Dotchin took a pass from behind the Sharks net from Brayden Point and beat Jones with a one-timer for his first career NHL goal.

It was a frantic first 20 minutes, perhaps not quite the pace the Sharks were looking to have against one of the NHL's most dangerous offenses.

The Lightning averaged a league-best 3.87 goals per game coming into Wednesday and owned an Eastern Conference-leading record of 11-2-2. Seven of Tampa Bay's players had at least 11 points, with Stamkos and Kucherov leading the way with 25 and 23 points, respectively, to pace the NHL.

The Sharks already made some impressive statements so far this homestand with wins over Toronto, Nashville and Anaheim, as their four-game win streak was largely a product of goaltending, timely goals, puck management and limiting chances against.

Wednesday's game, it seemed, was another opportunity to show they deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with the league's best teams.

"They're the highest-scoring team in the league," Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said Wednesday morning. "We had Toronto come in here a week or so ago. ... Similar-type team. This is probably a better, more-refined version of that, so it's going to be a great test."

The Sharks had their top shutdown defenseman ready to go Wednesday, as Marc-Edouard Vlasic returned to the lineup after he missed Saturday's game against Anaheim with a head injury.

Vlasic passed the baseline concussion test this weekend and has been skating without issue since Saturday. Vlasic went through full practices Monday and Tuesday, took the morning skate Wednesday, said he felt good, and was eager to play against the Lightning.

"Thirteen games in, teams are starting to establish themselves," Vlasic said of Tampa Bay. "A team that has this much offense at the beginning of the year hopefully can continue it through 82 games, but there's still 60-plus games left.

"Right now, they have the best offense in the league. They've been playing 4-3, 5-4 games, us on the other side have been playing a little tighter. It'll be a great test for us defensively."

After being a healthy scratch for the last six games, forward Jannik Hansen drew back into the lineup and was on the Sharks' fourth line with Barclay Goodrow and Joel Ward. Hansen had 6:15 of ice time through two periods.

(c)2017 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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