The San Jose Sharks found themselves having to answer a twisted question after a very tough weekend. What’s worse: getting humiliated at home or losing a tight game in overtime because of a blown call?
Unfortunately for San Jose, they suffered both fates, losing 8-0 to the Nashville Predators at SAP Center on March 5. They fared much better the next day during rookie goaltender Zach Sawchenko’s NHL starting debut but lost 3-2 versus the Anaheim Ducks in OT on a controversial play.
They also face an uncertain future in the net with James Reimer and Adin Quinn out with injuries, and the Sharks continue to suffer periods of maddening inconsistency.
Sawchenko Finally Gets His Shot
Many things had to happen for Sharks coach Bob Boughner to actually let Sawchenko start a game. Hill suffered an injury, and Reimer started every game while Sawchenko waited. Reimer suffered an injury against the Las Vegas Golden Knights on March 1, with Sawchenko finishing the game. They went out and re-acquired veteran Alex Stalock and started him against the Predators.
Stalock was pulled after giving up six goals, with Sawchenko finishing up and finally getting the start in Anaheim. Sawchenko was the bright spot of the game, stopping 33 shots and garnering a .917 save percentage. “Throughout my journey, that’s the one thing I’ve really held close to me is that belief that I know I can play here,” Sawchenko said. “Earning the trust to get a start, that’s a whole another step, right? So it’s all part of the process here, just brick by brick, building a career and trusting the process.”
It was a matchup of backup goalies, with Anthony Stolarz getting the call in place of injured starter John Gibson. Stolarz wasn’t as busy as Sawchenko, getting 20 saves, but he played a very nice game.
The Ducks tested Sawchenko. He had a big pad save against Sam Steel late in the first period and several other big saves. “I thought he stood tall,” Boughner said of Sawchenko. “I thought that he gave us the saves we needed early. He made some big saves to keep the momentum on our side.”
One solid game does not make him the second coming of Evgeni Nabokov. But Sawchenko proved that he could start in the NHL and hold his own.
Good to See Stalock Back in the NHL
Stalock had a rough outing against the Predators, allowing six goals in 46 minutes. But he overcame a difficult journey to return to the league and should be commended.
Stalock, 34, was a fourth-round draft pick for the Sharks in 2005 and played his first five seasons with the team. He was with the Minnesota Wild in 2020 when he contracted an asymptomatic case of COVID and developed myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that can lead to cardiac arrest. He missed the entire 2020-21 season, was waived by Minnesota and claimed by the Edmonton Oilers. He played five games with Edmonton’s American Hockey League club in Bakersfield before the trade to San Jose.
The Sharks were looking for a goal with NHL experience, and Stalock was clearly very rusty. But he’s a fighter and will likely get another chance.
Yes, There Was a Blown Call In Overtime
At first glance, there seemed like there were two blown calls on Rickard Rakell’s game-winner 14 seconds into overtime. After a closer look, it was only one bad call, but man, it was a big one.
After the opening faceoff for OT, Troy Terry took the puck backward while Henrique drifted toward the bench door nearest to center ice. Terry fired a sharp cross-ice pass to Rakell as he came on the ice through the bench door closest to San Jose’s net, and he scored his 16th goal of the season. The officials reviewed the play to see whether Rakell was offsides and if there were too many men on the ice. It was close, but Rakell was not offsides. But it was evident Henrique was not far enough out of the play, and there should have been a too many men on the ice minor.
Boughner was incensed with the call and how the refs handled it. “It’s just a complete, disastrous blown call,” Boughner claimed. “(The officials) don’t even come over to the bench. They race off the ice (without) the respect to come and explain it. Everybody missed it. If you watch the replay, it’s too many men, all day long.”
It’s not the only reason the Sharks didn’t win, of course. There were missed chances all over the place. But the officials are also professionals and should be called out when they make a blatant mistake.
The Captain Takes the Lead
Logan Couture did what a good leader needs to do after a bad loss. After the Predators loss and a quick trip to Southern California, he picked up his squad by finding the back of the net.
He scored on a short shot 7:47 into the game before the Ducks had a chance to get one shot on goal. Couture broke inside on an odd-man rush and beat Stolarz through the five-hole.
After a shutout defeat the night before, the goa was a huge lift for the team, even though it did not end in a victory.
The Nashville Nightmare
Yes, the Sharks rebounded with a much better performance in Anaheim, and the players, coaches and fans would probably like to forget the Nashville game happened. But it needs to be addressed for its ugliness on and off the ice.
It was the worst game I’ve seen them play this season. Stalock wasn’t good, but neither was anyone else. There was activity on offense, and they were constantly beaten on defense. You just expect much more from an NHL team in front of its own crowd.
To make a bad night worse, there was a brawl in the stands between Sharks and Predators fans. That’s never acceptable, and thankfully it was broken up pretty quickly.
The Sharks will now try to put a bad night and a bad call behind them and figure out their goaltending situation. Unless Hill or Reimer are available, Sawchenko has earned another start when they play the Los Angeles Kings on March 10.
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Scott Linesburgh has been a sports writer for 35 years, and has spent more than 15 years as a pro hockey beat writer. He has covered some of the biggest sporting events, including the Super Bowl and Indianapolis 500. A native of Long Island, N.Y. who grew up as an Islander fan, Scott cover the San Jose Sharks for THW, and is always looking for the stories beyond the box scores.