Sooner or later, you'd think that a scoring attack featuring Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and the rest of the San Jose Sharks' high-powered offence would have to break out.
James Reimer, the Toronto Maple Leafs' goalie, made a strong pitch for continued NHL employment Tuesday night, turning aside 21 shots in the second period alone, the only reason his team was in a position to record a dramatic 4-2 come-from-behind victory over the slumping Sharks.
Mired in a lengthy and inexplicable scoring drought, the Sharks exploded for exactly two goals on 42 shots against Reimer and fell for the fifth consecutive game. Toronto, meanwhile, matched its season-high win streak by rattling off its fourth in a row.
It meant, among other things, that Ron Wilson recorded his 600th career coaching win against his former San Jose team. The Leafs, now 3-0 on this road trip, finish up Thursday night with a date against the Phoenix Coyotes, come-from-behind winners over the Columbus Blue Jackets last night.
"We're not going to make the playoffs in the next two weeks," said Wilson. "This is going to be a long-term project for us. Probably if you look at it, we've got to win two out of three the rest of the way in order to get close.
Clarke MacArthur, with a pair, including the clincher into the empty net, along with Phil Kessel and Carl Gunnarson all scored third-period goals for the Maple Leafs to break open what had been a tight defensive struggle up to that point.
Patrick Marleau, the most dangerous threat on the home squad, scored both goals for San Jose.
In a game that was seesawing back and forth in the third period, Gunnarson inexplicably accounted for the game winner, darting up on the play to deflect a Dion Phaneuf slapper past Sharks goalie Antti Niemi. The Leafs scored their three goals on four shots, demonstrating an opportunism that has been characteristic of their recent play (18 goals in the previous three games) and left the Sharks puzzled and looking for answers.
Kessel's goal - Toronto's first - was pivotal and a thing of beauty. He deked both Sharks' defencemen, including fellow all-star Dan Boyle, and then left Niemi so far out of position with his feint that he had nothing to do at the end but lift the puck into the open goal. Kessel's goal seemed to fluster the Sharks, and Niemi, who had been sound defensively up until then.
But for all the Leafs' revved up scoring, Toronto owed its victory to Reimer for holding them in, while the Sharks peppered him with shots all night. Wilson opted to play Reimer for the second consecutive night because he's had the hot hand of late.
"Sometimes, when you get a lot of shots, you notice it," said Reimer. "But you know, I was just focused on the puck and focused on the game and all of a sudden, I looked up before the end of the period and noticed 18 shots. It kinda surprised me. The team was playing hard, but we got into a little penalty trouble and I think that's why we gave up so many shots."
San Jose's normally potent offence had gone stone cold in their previous four games, all losses, which had them unexpectedly holding down 11th place in the tight Western Conference standings, after finishing first overall a year ago.
Tuesday's loss wasn't going to make anybody any happier in Silicon Valley.
"Nobody's going to feel sorry for us," said Sharks' coach Todd McLellan. "We lost and we didn't come to the rink tonight to do that, so whether we (outplayed them or not) isn't important. The wins and losses are. We've been whining and bitching about our offence lately, but it wasn't our offence that let us down tonight. It was our defensive commitment in the third period."
Wilson hinted that the Leafs might carry three goaltenders for a time and delay a decision on Reimer's future, but suggested that wasn't his call to make. It sounded as if J.S. Giguere was going to get the start, one way or another, against Phoenix, but that Reimer might stick around for a little while longer.
"It's a great month," said Wilson, of the fact that he landed his 600th win in a month where he'll also coach his 1,300th NHL game and his father Larry is going into the AHL Hall of Fame.
"I mean, I get credit for 600 wins but I've had great assistant coaches, starting in Anaheim with Tim Army and Al Sims and now Tim Hunter, for 1,001 games and Rob Zettler."
Wilson also received a congratulatory phone call from Art Berglund, a long time associate from USA Hockey.
ORR ON THE HOT SEAT?
The Sharks were steaming about a second-period knee-on-knee collision between Leafs' enforcer Colton Orr and the Sharks' Logan Couture, a Calder Trophy candidate. As Couture was skating through the neutral zone just outside the Sharks blue line, Orr tried to catch him with an open ice hit, missed - and the two banged right knees hard. Couture limped off and slammed his gloves down in frustration as he disappeared into the dressing room.
"It's a dangerous play," said McLellan.
The Orr hit significantly raised the temperature of the game and minutes later, at the other end, Setoguchi took out the Leafs' Francois Beauchemin as the two raced to retrieve a puck in the corner. Beauchemin appealed to referee Paul Devorski for a penalty and when he didn't get it, crosschecked Setoguchi and earned a minor for his trouble. In all, there were six minors assessed in a span of eight minutes in the second period. The intermission couldn't have come soon enough.
KESSEL AN ALL STAR
The top five Leaf scorers were only separated by four points going into Tuesday's action, with MacArthur leading the way at 34, followed by Mikhail Grabovski, Kris Versteeg, Kessel and Nikolai Kulemin. However, the NHL's hockey operations department opted to make Kessel the Leafs' only representative to the All-Star game in New Jersey, presumably because his 19 goals leads the team and he is occasionally a highlight film waiting to happen.
For the Sharks, only Boyle among the team's glittery starring cast was chosen to play, a sign that all has not been right this season in the Silicon Valley. Heatley is a former All-Star MVP. Thornton, meanwhile, the team's perennial scoring leader, was just third heading into the game behind Heatley and Ryan Clowe, but earned two assists last night. Thornton needs 32 points the rest of the way to get to 1,000 for his career.