Couture goal lifts Sharks past Islanders

SAP CENTER — A special play by a special player ended a stalemate Saturday night, with Logan Couture scoring the winning goal in a 3-1 Sharks’ victory over the Islanders.

At 11:50 of the third period, Logan Couture tipped in a shot from the point by Justin Braun top shelf past Islanders’ goaltender Jaroslav Halak to untie a 1-1 game. But it wasn’t a typical redirect, as Couture evaded Halak with the tip from a tight angle, just in front of the goal line to the left of the goaltender.

Sharks’ coach Todd McLellan lauded Couture’s knack for deflecting shots:

“Couture has great hands. He puts himself in a position to knock a lot of pucks down. He doesn’t open up. He still stays square to the puck and is able to knock things down, so it was an impressive goal from that angle.”

The Sharks received an insurance goal four minutes later from James Sheppard, who scored his first goal of the season on the rush, finishing off a pinpoint pass from Adam Burish right in front.

It was a rather even game up to that point – a game of defense, with neither team garnering much sustained pressure or prime scoring opportunities.

Photos by Trevor Will/SFBay

Speaking of defense, the Sharks played a majority of the game with five defensemen, as Scott Hannan departed in the first period with an apparent injury and did not return. When asked about Hannan’s condition postgame, McLellan offered no update.

Still, it was hardly noticeable that the Sharks were short one defenseman on the ice. They held the Islanders to 20 shots, and just six in each of the first two periods.

Forward Tommy Wingels broke it down:

“Our ‘D’ played a heck of a game. When you lose a guy early, it’s taxing on other guys. We were able to eliminate second and third opportunities. They would get us in our zone for 30 seconds at a time, but when we had the opportunity to get [the puck] out [of the zone], we got it out. We were able to keep our shifts short and keep the puck out of the net.”

McLellan agreed, and unlike many postgame sessions early in the season season when he described his team as trying to be “cute,” he complimented the straight-forward mindset:

“We didn’t give up a lot when we were in our end. We weren’t running around. I thought the five defenseman managed their ice time well and simplified their game a little bit more. It allowed us to come away with a win, so they handled themselves very well.”

It was unfortunate timing for Hannan, who was honored before the game in a ceremony for playing in his 1000th career NHL game earlier this season in Washington.

The Islanders struck first at the 8:06 mark of the first period on a goal by Kyle Okposo, who made a nifty move around Brent Burns followed by a quick shot past Antti Niemi’s short side.

The Sharks responded with a power play goal by Tomas Hertl two minutes later. Hertl, who remained on the second power play unit despite being demoted to the fourth line, beat Halak from point-blank range to tie the game.

Wingels, who received the primary assist on Hertl’s goal, commented on the youngster’s recent struggles and the relief of getting him a goal:

“[Hertl] was in a great spot. We got the puck to him, and he finished. He’s got the skill set to finish that every time. He’ll probably tell you he wishes we’d play again tomorrow night. It’s good to see him score. I think everyone could see a big smile on his face afterwards, and sometimes it only takes one goal to really get you going.”

Hertl was bumped to the fourth line for tonight’s game, although he finished on the third line. He had just two goals and one assist in 12 games coming in to tonight.

Said Hertl after the game:

“Oh yeah, I’m very happy I scored. Tommy Wingels had a very nice pass to me, so it was a really easy goal. Hopefully, I start more (scoring) and just keep going.”

San Jose outshot the Islanders 17-6 in the first period, but Halak stood tall. Travis Hamonic hit the post for New York at the 15:13 mark on a wrist shot to the left of Niemi.

The second period was anemic, as both teams offered a combined 11 shots on net. San Jose was able to kill off an Islanders power play to start the period where they stood strong under continual pressure from the Islanders, Joe Thornton had a scoring chance late in the period on a cut to the net, but it was turned aside by Halak.

The Sharks now have four days off before their next game against the Canucks on Thursday, a well deserved break after a rough stretch of playing eight of their last 11 games on the road.

McLellan concurred that his team needs some rest and some time to practice:

“Seven of our last 8 points were in a tough segment. It was nice to finish that way and win here at home. Our last couple of games wasn’t what we wanted it to be in our own building, so it’s nice to go into the break that way.”

Notes

The Sharks were outhit 34-24 by the Islanders. … John Scott returned from a two-game suspension tonight, but was scratched along with Tye McGinn and Matt Irwin. … The Sharks are now 6-0-2 in their last eight meetings with the Islanders. … Antti Niemi started his fourth consecutive game in net tonight for the Sharks. … Brent Burns’ six-game point streak was snapped tonight. … Patrick Marleau’s eight-game point streak against the Islanders was snapped tonight.