By Daniel Reedy
A youngster scored a one-timer in the third period then stole the show with an incredible, top-shelf goal for the game-winner — and it wasn’t Connor McDavid.
San Jose Sharks rookie winger Kevin Labanc was the hero for the home team and his pair of goals made the difference against the formerly division-leading Edmonton Oilers Saturday night.
With the win, San Jose takes over first place in the Pacific Division.
McDavid did his part, carrying visiting Edmonton with a goal and an assist, but was largely held in check by blueliner Marc-Edouard Vlasic and the rest of the Sharks’ defense. McDavid’s goal was the result of a baffling misdirection; he skated into the zone, fired a shot that ricocheted off of Vlasic’s skate which then hit Justin Braun’s skate and past goaltender Martin Jones.
McDavid’s stroke of luck tied the game at 1-1 in the third, following two periods dominated by San Jose. The Sharks doubled the Oilers in shots in the first period and kicked off the second with a power-play goal off a one-timed slapshot from captain Joe Pavelski to break the tie.
The bombardment of Oilers’ netminder Cam Talbot continued and San Jose outshot Edmonton 23-9 through the first 40 minutes.
Despite four power-play chances in the first two periods, the Oilers generated very little offense.
Talbot, who has the most starts of any goalie in the league was left out of the “Three Stars of the Game” but was strong in goal, facing several open shots and multiple breakaways. He had little chance on the goals he did concede.
Just over two minutes after McDavid’s goal, the Sharks responded with Labanc’s first tally of the night, a rocket from forward Logan Couture’s cross-ice pass on a breakaway.
“He scores goals,” Couture said of Labanc, postgame. “He’s a guy that’s consistently creating chances and scoring some goals for us. He’s done a tremendous job.”
But McDavid demonstrated why he leads the league in points and on the face off directly following the Shark’s goal, slipped a perfectly-timed pass to forward Patrick Maroon who slapped it past a sliding Jones to knot up the score at 2-2.
The Sharks risked collapse, taking two more penalties in the third with the game tied, but killed both man-advantages.
The Sharks, certainly disappointed that the score reflected a far more even game than what occurred, came out flying in the extra period. The three-on-three format usually produces numerous scoring opportunities for both teams due to the open space, but San Jose continued to control the game as it had for most of the previous 60 minutes.
The breakthrough came with just over a minute and a half left in overtime as Labanc received a pass from Couture from behind the net, patiently skated out front, let Talbot drop to a butterfly stance and flicked the puck just under the crossbar.
It was a thrilling ending, but it should not have been that close.
The Sharks commanded the game from the first puck-drop but needed overtime to put away the Oilers. San Jose was just 1 for 4 on the power-play, including four consecutive minutes with a man-advantage following Oilers’ forward Zach Kassian’s double minor. The Sharks have just one goal in their last 11 power-play opportunities and are just 6 for 40 in their last 10 games.
Two factors were essential to San Jose’s dominance: penalty killing and offensive determination.
The Oilers went 0 for 6 with a man-advantage. The Sharks shut out the league’s eighth-best powerplay and generated several chances of their own shorthanded. Center Chris Tierney has certainly earned his retained status from last season, providing quickness and rapid decision-making as a frequent penalty killer. Winger Melker Karlsson, who is often paired with Tierney, had several offensive chances, despite being one of four skaters on the ice. His breakaway, in which he faked Talbot into the splits, had a wide open goal and flipped the puck toward the net, but was robbed by Talbot’s glove save.
San Jose allowed very little offense from Edmonton’s power-play unit; so little it seemed as though the visitors were on the defensive for most of their advantage time.
McDavid and the Oilers are known for their speed, but it was the Sharks who controlled the pace, invading the Edmonton zone relentlessly. Despite relatively little success against Talbot, San Jose maintained pressure and were able to score enough to close out the win against its division rivals.
The Sharks will have Christmas Eve and Day off and travel to Southern California in their return to action against the Anaheim Ducks Dec. 27.