PITTSBURGH >> As reporters filed into the Sharks dressing room following the Sharks win in Pittsburgh on Thursday, backup goalie Aaron Dell blurted out: “glad Haley is back.”
Micheal Haley, who rejoined the Sharks after getting plucked off waivers on Wednesday, made his presence felt immediately in his first game back with the team he played the enforcer role with during the 2016-17 season. Late in the third period, Haley found himself in the middle of a line brawl that got ignited during a TV timeout, mixing it up with Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
The fisticuffs stole the spotlight from Brent Burns’ three-point game, a three-goal night from the Sharks special teams units and an incredible backcheck from Joe Thornton that wiped out an Evgeni Malkin breakaway.
Regardless, the win pulled the Sharks to within a point of the Calgary Flames for first place in the Pacific Division.
Here’s what we learned as the Sharks completed a season sweep of the Penguins with a 4-0 win:
1. Martin Jones rebounds from a subpar start as trade rumors swirls >> As the Sharks flew out to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, rumors swirled that the team had agreed to a deal to bring in a veteran netminder to serve as Jones’ backup as the goalie’s up-and-down season continued with a lackluster performance against the Boston Bruins on Monday.
While Sharks territory got swept up in the news of a potential trade, Jones remained oblivious, focusing on his next start against the Penguins.
“I don’t read that stuff anyway, so I didn’t even know about it,” Jones said.
The rumors proved to be false, another concoction of the blogosphere that spread like wildfires on the internet. But Jones’ ability to block out the noise is another reason why the Sharks maintain confidence in him heading toward the stretch drive.
Jones ability to approach his job with a pitcher’s memory is one of his strengths and it allowed him to rebound from Monday’s game by tossing his second shutout of the season against the Penguins.
“He always follows up tough games with a really-good effort,” head coach Pete DeBoer said. “That’s always a given.”
Though the Sharks helped his cause by spotting him a 3-0 lead in the first, Jones made several key saves to keep the Penguins at bay in the second, allowing his team to put the game on cruise control in the third.
Jones made a big stop on Phil Kessel off a two-on-one play just 40 seconds into the frame, thwarting the Penguins from gaining life. He stymied Kessel again with less than two minutes left in the frame after a Burns giveaway in the defensive zone. His best stop of the night came with 3.4 seconds left in the middle stanza when he squeeze the five hole on Crosby’s 13-foot wrist shot, sucking the life out of the Penguins heading into the second intermission.
With a 26-save performance, Jones’ save percentage improved to .914 in nine February appearances. If he continues to turn things around, giving the Sharks what the need in the spring, it’ll be a testament to his mental game and his ability to fight through the worst slump of his career.
“I don’t have a real strategy,” Jones said. “With the schedule, we play every other day. You move on and start preparing for the next one. I don’t really have any secrets. Put it behind you and start thinking about the next one.”
2. Haley makes his presence felt in first game back with Sharks >> The timing of Haley’s return proved to be impeccable: he found himself in the middle of a line brawl in his first game with the Sharks since April 8, 2017.
During the game’s final TV timeout, several Penguins jumped over the boards to go after Evander Kane, who was staring into the team bench from center ice.
Kane insists that he was trying to catch a glimpse of the Penguins white board.
“They’re about to pull their goalie, right?” Kane said. “So that’s just, I’d like to think, a little bit of a savvy-veteran thing to do. If you could see it, why wouldn’t you look at it?
“You can clearly see that one of their players jumps over and tries to get in my face. I laughed to myself a little bit and things escalated.”
Brenden Dillon exchanged words with Crosby, which led to shoves and jabs. Eventually, Haley jumped in and mixed it up with the Penguins captain. To be fair, the Sharks tough guy didn’t exactly give Crosby the full Haley experience.
“I don’t know if I’d call that a fight. If all the fights were like that I’d take it. My body would feel a lot better,” said Haley, who saw 8:28 of ice time on the Sharks fourth line.
“It’s pretty hard for guys like me to get a hold of guys like him.”
Kane, Haley, Crosby, Brenden Dillon and Tanner Pearson all received misconduct penalties for the altercation. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan got tossed.
Just two seconds after the next faceoff, Phil Kessel swung his stick, hitting Erik Karlsson in the upper-back area.
If the Sharks took issue with it, they stayed quiet.
“I haven’t even looked at it DeBoer said. “I don’t know.”
3. Tomas Hertl is a Penguin killer >> Hertl grew up rooting for the Penguins. Jaromir Jagr was his childhood idol. He also admired Evgeni Malkin. Now, Hertl is a Penguin killer.
Hertl continued his assault of the Penguins Thursday, scoring to more goals, adding to the hat trick he scored against them on Jan. 15. He scored both goals on the power play, going upstairs on a Brent Burns rebound just 57 seconds into the game. At 13:19 of the first, he recorded his 28th of the year, shooting the puck into an open net to complete a tic-tac goal from Joe Pavelski and Kevin Labanc.
The Sharks power play went 3 for 6 as Burns added a goal at 16:51 of the third. The penalty kill went 2 for 2 with Kane adding a tally at 10:01 of the opening frame.
Hertl’s five goals in a pair of games matched up against Crosby and Malkin this season is just more proof that he’s rounding into what DeBoer calls an “elite center.”
“It’s a great test,” the Sharks coach said. “If you’re a guy like Tommy Hertl, you get a chance to play against those guys, you take it as a big challenge. I thought he really rose to the occasion.”