Starting last Thursday, the San Jose Sharks, combined with their alumni group, played four games on four consecutive evenings. While each provided something interesting, one game was especially important.
Thursday: San Jose Sharks v Carolina Hurricanes
The Sharks came to the rink at SAP Center to face Carolina, apparently not quite on time. Carolina jumped out to a 3-0 lead less than 15 minutes into the game. A period later, the score was 4-1, the lone Sharks tally coming short-handed.
The Sharks, among the league’s lowest-scoring teams, didn’t look like a good bet to come back. But they struck for three consecutive goals – two scores came on the power play and a second short-handed goal tied the game.
Early in overtime, a terrific feed from Joe Pavelski to Brent Burns resulted in the winning goal. For the Sharks, the 5-4 victory marked the second significant comeback for the Sharks this season to force overtime. A similar comeback against Vegas, also from a 4-1 deficit (on the day after Thanksgiving) resulted in overtime, though the Sharks fell short in that one, losing 5-4.
Friday: Sharks Alumni v Guns and Hoses
A two-hour drive north of San Jose is Santa Rosa, California. This area was among the hardest hit by the wildfires which whipped through Northern California in October. Thousands of homes were destroyed and over 40 lives were lost. The devastation and tragedy remain hard to comprehend.
But, as often happens, difficult days can also bring out the best in people. The Sharks Alumni Association, formed in November, scheduled their first event as a fundraiser in Santa Rosa. The event took place at the rink known officially as the Redwood Empire Ice Arena. To pretty much everyone else, it is the Snoopy rink or slightly more formally, Snoopy’s Home Ice. The ice center was developed by beloved Peanuts creator, the late Charles Schultz. Schultz was an avid recreational hockey player and his contributions to hockey ran deep. He received the Lester Patrick Trophy for contributions to American ice hockey in 1981.
The opposition to the Sharks alumni squad consisted of local first responders. Combining police and firefighters, the team is appropriately named Guns and Hoses. The impact of the fires went deep into the community. Two members of Guns and Hoses lost homes in the fires, as did Schultz’s wife and son.
The game raised about $40,000 for a community working hard to repair itself. Adding some joy to the mix also helps. Yet, even as the game went on, some members of the local first responders were not there, but in Southern California, battling the fires there.
The final score was irrelevant, everyone wins at this event.
Saturday: San Jose Sharks v Ottawa Senators
The Sharks dominated a reeling Ottawa team, start to finish, winning 5-0. It was hard to decipher if the Sharks were that good or Ottawa that bad. But Ottawa was bad, meaning it’d be foolish to read much into the game beyond this. Aaron Dell earned a shutout while his opposite number, Ottawa’s Craig Anderson, faced a 50-shot barrage, including the first ten shots taken during the game.
Sunday: San Jose Sharks v Minnesota Wild
Apparently, the Sharks like falling behind by three goals. They did against Vegas, battled back to force overtime, and lost. They did against Carolina, battled back to force overtime and won. And they did it again against Minnesota, falling behind 3-0. And for the third time in just over two weeks, the Sharks came back to tie the game.
The Sharks early deficit had much to do with Brent Burns, including a goal allowed when he knocked over his own goalie, Martin Jones. Alas, Burns also keyed the comeback, scoring two goals in a game for the first time this season. The second goal was vintage Burns. It was a power-play shot from the blue line and his best shot of the season – an absolute laser which picked the corner to beat former Sharks goalie Alex Stalock.
A dominant third period for San Jose eventually led to the tying goal off the stick of Tomas Hertl. The game went into overtime, where Minnesota controlled play and won 4-3.
For the San Jose Sharks, they garnered five points out of a possible six in their three games. The Sharks’ normally stellar defense and goaltending is backsliding, but the offense is awakening. Burns, who had been largely absent from the Sharks offense, has posted three goals and six points in the last three games.
The fourth game, played by the alumni, carried a different sort of relevance. It helped a community rebounding from a major tragedy. Helping financially while creating fun times is as good as it gets.
• On Monday, the Sharks waived Ryan Carpenter. It was a risky move, as he could be claimed by another NHL team instead of going to the Sharks AHL squad. Measured by points, Carpenter has not been productive this season. Still, his best fit is with Barclay Goodrow and they rarely played together (their last game together against Tampa Bay, Goodrow and Carpenter were both plus-2 in a game the Sharks lost 5-2). San Jose’s depth is a meaningful team advantage. They’ve been able to weather injuries due to players like Carpenter. Despite only putting up a single assist in 16 games, Carpenter is plus-1 on the season.
In 28 career games with the Sharks, he has five points and is plus-6. This season, he’s been important on the Sharks superb penalty kill. He is tops among Sharks forwards in short-handed ice time per game and leads the Sharks in short-handed face-off wins, despite playing in less than 60% of the games.
On Tuesday, Carpenter was claimed off waivers, by division rival Vegas.
• NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is forecasting a salary cap increase between $3 million and $7 million for the 2018-19 season. The lower figure reflects a modest increase, but the higher figure could factor into the thinking of John Tavares, the premier free agent, should he decide his future is not with the New York Islanders. The larger the increase in salary cap, the more teams which can compete for Tavares’ services. A tighter cap is helpful to the Sharks in the Tavares sweepstakes, as they have more cap space than most teams.
• Martin Jones looked like the best goalie in hockey before getting injured late in the game against Winnipeg on Nov. 25. He returned a week later, but has not been nearly as effective. In his four appearances since his return, he has allowed 17 goals. He allowed only 15 goals in the entire month of November (9 games).
ZEKE is a native of the DC area where he witnessed the birth of the Capitals franchise. After graduating from Cornell University, which had seen hockey glory before he arrived, he moved west to San Jose. There he witnessed the birth of the Sharks franchise. His wait to witness a Championship from any of these teams finally ended in 2018.