SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP)—The San Jose Sharks gradually have become one of the NHL’s biggest surprises this season. Even their coach is a bit baffled by their tenacity, their poise—and their ferocious first periods.
Nils Ekman had two goals and an assist, and Patrick Marleau scored his sixth goal in six games during San Jose’s dominant opening 20 minutes in the Sharks’ 5-2 victory over the Nashville Predators on Monday night.
Marco Sturm had a goal and an assist, and Jonathan Cheechoo added an empty-net goal as the Sharks stretched their franchise-record home unbeaten streak to 11 games. With another phenomenal start, San Jose also took over first place in the Pacific Division with its fourth victory in five games.
“It’s hard to say if we thought we could play this well for this period of time,” Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. “The first periods, we’re so ready to play. It’s kind of scary how we dominate first periods.”
The Sharks took a 3-0 lead in the first period, then held off a strong Nashville rally in the final minutes before Ekman secured the win with a short-handed goal with three minutes to play. Ekman, a former Rangers and Tampa Bay farmhand, had the second two-goal game of his remarkable season in San Jose.
The Sharks acquired Ekman with hopes he would be a depth player for their Cleveland affiliate. Instead, he made the roster out of training camp and hasn’t stopped improving during his first full NHL season.
“Every now and then I do well, but I’m still learning,” Ekman said. “It’s nice to show my family and everyone else that I can play in the NHL.”
Evgeni Nabokov made 19 saves for San Jose, which hasn’t lost in regulation at the Shark Tank since dropping a 4-3 decision to Colorado on Nov. 11.
The Sharks began the season with a nine-game winless streak at home, but they’ve gradually developed within their disciplined offensive system. And to nearly everyone’s surprise, San Jose’s burgeoning confidence and teamwork has carried the club to the top of the division.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz pulled goalie Tomas Vokoun after the first period. Vokoun, who has a history of success against San Jose, is one win shy of matching Mike Dunham’s franchise record—but he was no match for the Sharks this time.
“The first period wasn’t a good period, not good at all,” Trotz said. “We sat and watched as San Jose skated by us. We gave them too much respect. I wasn’t happy with our defense.”
“I don’t think Vokoun had anything to do with those goals,” right wing Adam Hall said. “He’s the backbone of the team. He’s the reason we’re here.”
The Sharks did most of their scoring early and late. Just 2:01 after the opening faceoff, Ekman scored his ninth goal with a deceptive wrist shot that beat Vokoun on the far side of the net. Marleau scored a few minutes later, roofing an uncontested shot over a prone Vokoun.
Marleau is on pace to better his career high in goals for the third time in four seasons, and his offensive surge has been at the center of the Sharks’ move up the Western Conference standings. He has nine goals and 11 points in 11 games.
Sturm scored late in the first period by bouncing the puck off the leg of kneeling Nashville defenseman Jason York during a power play. The puck ricocheted through Vokoun’s legs for Sturm’s 12th goal.
“After that first period, we started to play,” York said. “We got it to3-2, and then we fell apart again when they got those last two goals.”
Nashville RW Scott Walker, who assisted on Zidlicky’s goal, has eight points in five games. He also lost several teeth in a first-period collision. … The Sharks are headed out on a four-game road trip beginning Wednesday in Columbus. … San Jose’s Ron Wilson coached his 800th NHL game. Only sevenactive coaches have reached the milestone.