For the San Jose Barracuda Game 5 is what the season comes down to for the Western Conference champions. Despite the 4-0 Game 1 score, it took an exceptional performance by Grosenick to take that win in what looked to be a very even game except in net, and the two teams have traded wins since then. But the entire season comes down to a final game tonight against the Stockton Heat at the SAP Center. The keys to victory are only two: limit the prime scoring chances the Heat seems to be getting at will and the young players need to elevate their game.
Limit Golden Opportunities
Defensively the six defenders have been solid. Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed have been solid while getting the lion’s share of minutes and responsibilities. The Barracuda’s bottom-four of Julius Bergman, Nick DeSimone, Jacob Middleton and Mirco Mueller have played to the best of their ability to this point, but finding another effort level gear in the defensive zone will help address this point as well.
For the Heat, the difference has been the quality of chances they are getting. The Barracuda team defense was a staple of the season success and helped Troy Grosenick enjoy his finest season as a professional. Now that playoff hockey has come to town, the play gets tougher, and the Barracuda are showing some stress fractures around the stout defensive shell they constructed during the regular season. The veteran forwards are doing their part, now the rest of the team needs to make sure they are working hard in the defensive zone as well.
Another benefit is increased offense. Much of the Barracuda offense this past season came from the transition. Tightening up in front of Grosenick and not allowing the Heat to set up their neutral zone trap they have taken to deploying could lead to more scoring opportunities as well.
Youngsters Need a Big Game
Early in the season, Kevin Labanc was an electric winger for the Barracuda that a few times each game would treat the fans to a wicked wrist shot, a great pass or in some way make the San Jose offensive machine turn. Since returning from the San Jose Sharks, Labanc has not been able to regain the touch that he enjoyed in the early part of the season. Labanc lost his man on Stockton’s go-ahead goal in Game 4 and was a minus-three in the Game 2 loss.
To a lesser extent, Danny O’Regan has slowed as well, but the two-way game is still there. The play of Timo Meier has been solid, but his physical play coupled with his skill is badly needed against the Heat, who are winning most of the physical battles.
These three of these youngsters are key pieces to the future of the San Jose Sharks core. Wilson said as much at the final media day the Sharks had to let all the youngsters know that the big club is watching. O’Regan lead the Barracuda in scoring, Timo Meier was a regular on an NHL playoff team, and Kevin Labanc’s hot start saw him play nearly three times as many games in the NHL as the AHL.
Rourke Chartier is tied for second on the squad in scoring with five assists but is snakebitten when it comes to goalscoring with a handful of A-plus opportunities not finding the twine. A goal by the two-way center could open the floodgates, which the Barracuda need. Adam Helewka has no points in three games and was a healthy scratch in Game 4. These young players need a significant effort, both for the Barracuda and to kickstart their motors.
- The Heat have been a resilient bunch all season and clawed their way back into the playoffs. San Jose has to be ready for more of that in Game 5.
- Another interesting note: outside of the Game 2 drubbing, the Stockton Heat have been kept off the board in the first period in the other three contests.
- The Barracuda have relied on the big play of veterans Ryan Carpenter (tied for first in AHL playoff scoring with six points), John McCarthy and Barclay Goodrow (both with three points) have been the most dependable players for head coach Roy Sommer. Buddy Robinson and Rourke Chartier combined have been steady as well among the forward groups. Robinson and Chartier have five points each and have meshed well together.
- Among the forwards, O’Regan is a team worst minus-three, with Meier and Labanc right there each at minus-two. That trend cannot continue if the Barracuda hope to have an extended playoff run.
- Both teams have 126 shots on goal through four games. In fact, breaking shots down by period, the teams are tied as well: 39 in period one, 47 in period 2 and 40 in period 3.