On the heels of a 7-6 loss to the St. Louis Blues and the loss of Tomas Hertl to the COVID-19 protocol list, headed into a two-game series against the Colorado Avalanche. Facing a star-studded roster that was missing Erik Johnson, Bowen Byram, and Cale Makar, the Sharks had a lot to prove against a Stanley Cup hopeful.
The team earned mixed results, to say the least. In both games, San Jose fell to a 2-0 deficit. However, they responded differently in each match. After splitting the series with a dominant win in the first game, and a brutal shutout loss in the second, the Sharks are now seventh in the Honda West Division.
Series Opens With Success
The Sharks likely had low expectations facing an opponent with a much better roster. Entering the game, head coach Bob Boughner challenged his struggling veteran Marc-Edouard Vlasic to play better defensively and promoted him to the second pairing with Erik Karlsson.
That pairing was on the ice for both Avalanche goals before Nikolai Knyzhov replaced Vlasic, and the Sharks sparked a comeback. Radim Simek became the first Sharks defenseman besides Brent Burns to score a goal this season when he opened the scoring.
The Sharks received contributions from unlikely sources. In addition to Simek, Karlsson was another blueliner to score, off a one-timer on the power play. Young wingers Rudolfs Balcers and John Leonard also added goals.
The Sharks’ top line contributed, with Kevin Labanc scoring in the second period and Evander Kane finishing the game with an empty-net tally. The team looked dominant, and Jones allowed just two goals as the defense in front of him played acceptably after two early goals.
After an early deficit, San Jose defeated one of the best teams in the league by scoring six consecutive goals. The club was hoping to build on that success in every aspect of their game, but they regressed in the second campaign and ran into a hot goaltender, Philipp Grubauer.
Sharks Outclassed in Rematch
Boughner is known to change his line combinations between and during games. Ahead of the rematch against the Avalanche, the Sharks moved ten players between the taxi squad and AHL roster. The only lineup change however, was Joachim Blichfeld, who made his season debut in Marcus Sorensen’s spot.
The Sharks faced a stellar performance from Grubauer but did little to help themselves. They matched their opposition at the start and were out-chanced by a small margin through the first thirty minutes. Then they fell apart, surrendering three even-strength goals, all to the Avalanche’s top line. The team also allowed a power-play goal off a five-minute major. Blichfeld’s match penalty was controversial. Some believe it was a clean hit, while others are calling for a suspension.
While the penalty didn’t cause the Sharks’ downfall, already down two goals, it was the nail in the coffin. Their jumbled line combinations and two power plays in the third period could not prevent the loss.
Martin Jones, who started both games, faced 1.89 expected goals and did not help much in the team’s 4-0 loss. The Sharks now conclude their homestand in a back-to-back series against the Vegas Golden Knights, the best team in the Honda West Division who are riding a four-game win streak.
Assessing the Situation
San Jose is in a tough position. With no second-round pick in the upcoming draft, an aging core and many high-priced salaries, the team is not in a great spot to rebuild, and they may not have a choice. The club has yet to win multiple games in a row, which has made it impossible to build any momentum through the first 20 games.
Given the speculation about potential trade candidates on the roster, the Sharks don’t seem to have much hope of contending this season. Now they must get ready to face a hot team that easily defeated them 3-1 in their only previous meeting.
San Jose seems to be looking to the future, which often contradicts Boughner’s assessment of his team. Against the Avalanche, the Sharks had very few players who controlled scoring chances. Three players made a positive impact: Blichfeld, Leonard, and Alex True. Despite this, they made up the fourth line after Boughner changed his lines before the third period.
Knyzhov, Leonard, and Ryan Donato have been pleasant surprises and have played consistently. However, the coach seems hesitant to use them in important situations as struggling vets like Vlasic, Sorensen, and Patrick Marleau are often given promotions.
Heading into Vegas, I would like to see contributions from Mario Ferraro, Timo Meier, and Labanc, who are all part of the Sharks’ young core and have performed well recently. While the team may have a glum outlook, production from the team’s young players could lead to a positive result.
Josh Frojelin is a young writer from the Bay Area. Josh grew up as a Sharks fan, being introduced to hockey by his father. He is now attached to his phone, waiting to hear the latest in hockey news. In addition to writing, Josh loves theatre, and his corgi Rocky.