MONTREAL — Kaapo Kahkonen stood on his head to make sure the San Jose Sharks started their four-game Eastern Conference road trip the right way.
The Finnish netminder recorded his first shutout for the Sharks stopping 28 shots to help lead them to a 4-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.
“It’s great but it also tells how we’ve played as a team,” Kahkonen said. “Huge blocks, huge (penalty) kills, good sticks on the PK and boxing out guys so I could see pucks, so huge thanks to the guys in front of me.”
Kahkonen has had a rough time at the office lately. After a convincing 5-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 21, the netminder allowed four goals or more in four of his last five games but bounced back with his first shutout since March 16, 2021.
“I think he's really confident because he's building off the game in Ottawa,” said Sharks coach David Quinn. “He played OK in Seattle, but to come back and play the way he did today, I think it's just another step in the right direction for him. And it was a big step tonight.”
“Honestly, I feel so happy for him,” added Sharks forward Tomas Hertl. “He was great and that's kind of what we need from him in the back. He looked confident and that he made good plays on PK and it wasn't easy because we gave up some chances but it was a really, really strong game from him.”
Hertl scored twice in the third period, including an empty-net marker, for San Jose (8-13-4). Matt Nieto and Logan Couture added the others as the Sharks snapped a three-game losing streak.
Jake Allen made 20 saves for Montreal (11-10-1).
The Canadiens hit a wall on the power play going 0 for 6 against San Jose’s league-leading penalty kill.
“It’s a bit of everything,” said Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis. “We’ll look at the video and we’ll learn lessons for this game, (the power play) was the difference tonight.”
“Maybe we just had to be in better spots for the low plays, I think we had a few chances to try and take it to the net,” added Montreal forward Nick Suzuki. “I kept watching it on the iPad, trying to figure out things during the game. I mean, I don’t know how many chances we had on the power play but we had enough for us to score for sure.”
Quinn gave credit to his coaching staff, who already manned the second-most effective penalty kill in the league before his arrival as head coach in July.
“It’s not easy when you step into a situation and you’ve got the number two penalty kill in the league last year,” Quinn said. “You want to put your touch on it, but you also understand that this thing's been very successful.
"So I think we, and (assistant coach Ryan Warsofsky) in particular, found a really good balance of putting his fingerprints on it, but also understanding that this thing wasn't broken.”
The Sharks drew first blood at 1:33 of the opening period when winger Alexander Barabanov attempted a wraparound and Nieto zoomed into the crease to tap the puck in off a rebound.
St. Louis challenged the play for offside but video review confirmed that Barabanov was onside in the lead-up and the goal stood.
With 1:51 to go in the first period, Brendan Gallagher made the Bell Centre crowd roar when he hit the crossbar from the left face-off circle.
In the second, Canadiens forward Christian Dvorak beat Kahkonen for the equalizer but the goal was called off. The referee indicated that Montreal winger Evgenii Dadonov took an interference penalty on the play when he checked defenceman Nick Cicek in San Jose’s net.
The Canadiens started the third period on a five-on-three power play due to a late delay of game call but the Sharks successfully killed the penalty and responded with three goals.
“We needed it,” said Quinn about the win. “It was a funny game with all the penalties, we haven't had that type of game in a long time. Our special teams were huge. That kill to start the third period, and a huge block by (defenceman Matt Benning), kind of gave us a little bit of juice and we scored right after it. But we needed it.”
Hertl redirected a Kevin Labanc pass into the back of the net at 2:29 of the third.
Just over a minute later, Benning located Couture with a stretch pass and the Sharks captain found himself on a breakaway and beat Allen to give his side a 3-0 advantage.
Hertl iced the game at 17:46 of the frame by skating the puck into an empty net.
Sharks defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic played his 20th career game against his hometown Canadiens. With an assist in Tuesday’s win, the Montreal native picked up seven points (one goal, six assists) against the Habs.
The Canadiens will set sail for a four-game Western Conference road trip starting with a visit to the Calgary Flames on Thursday.
The Sharks will head to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs on Wednesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2022.
Tristan D'Amours, The Canadian Press