The San Jose Sharks finally had a game which was nothing good news, and man, did they need it. Rookie goalie Zach Sawchenko earned his first NHL win, while one of their stars delivered the overtime win, as defenseman Erik Karlsson returned to the lineup and immediately helped out.
It was all rainbows and happy thoughts after the Sharks beat the Los Angeles Kings on the road on March 10. Sure, there are still issues, but this was a good day and should be celebrated as such. Here are three takeaways from a fun trip to L.A.
Sawchenko’s Big Victory
This was a big moment for the young goaltender from Calgary, Alberta. He sat on the bench and watched James Reimer play game after game until he got hurt. The Sharks traded for veteran Alex Stalock and gave him a shot. But a disastrous start against the Nashville Predators sent Sawchenko into the game and the starting lineup.
He played well in a 3-2 overtime loss in Anaheim on March 6, his first NHL start. He had to go to OT again to claim the win in L.A, but there were rocky moments. The Sharks grabbed the early lead on Burn’s power-play score, but Sawchenko had his shaky moments and allowed three consecutive Kings goals, trailing 3-1 in the middle of the second period.
He tightened things up, especially with his glove play, and didn’t allow another goal. “He rebounded and found a way to settle himself down and make some saves when he needed to, so I thought he played real solid in the second and third period,” San Jose coach Bob Boughner said.
Sawchenko’s performance may calm down the Sharks’ goaltending situation, at least for now. Adin Hill is closer to returning, and Reimer is still on the mend. As soon as one of them can return to the active roster, Stalock would seem to be the odd man out.
Karlsson’s Return Sparks Sharks
Welcome back. Karlsson played in his first game since Jan. 20 because of a forearm injury that required surgery, forcing him to miss 15 contests. He immediately helped settle the team down and reminded them why they can compete and win. “I think when we do the things that we’re good at, we’re a good team just like any other team in this league,” Karlsson said. “The margins are not as big as people think. I just think that we have a little bit of learning to do in how to keep it on a consistent level a little bit more often.”
He teamed with Jaycob Megna on the blue line and came up with two assists. Karlsson fed Brent Burns for a power-play goal just 2:39 into the game. He also set up Alex Barabanov’s game-tying goal early in the third period. Karlsson blasted the puck to the net, and Barabanov deflected it past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick to knot the game at 3-3. “I just blindly did it,” Karlsson joked when asked about his 20th assist. “No, we had a similar situation right at the end of the second. I think, and he kind of peeled off. I told him, ‘Just go there, and if it hits you … Like I’m going to shoot it hard, you never know.’ And we connected right after, so it was nice.”
Karlsson’s mere presence on the ice changes the dynamics for San Jose. The rest of the defense is also getting healthy, as Megna returned after missing 10 games (foot surgery).
Stars Shine for the Sharks
There were plenty of familiar names on the score sheet, as the Sharks put together one of their better offensive performances in a long time. The early goal was key, but more important was the way they rallied after the Kings had apparently taken control of the game.
Nick Bonino’s second-period goal stopped the momentum, and Barabanov tied it up in the third. The Sharks have been able to force overtime quite frequently this season, but getting the two points hasn’t been easy. Some of their biggest names came together to get the game-winner Quick undoubtedly wants back.
Tomas Hertl absolutely owned Quick as he whipped past and back behind the net and buried the wrap-around offering into OT. Quick dove at Hertl as he headed behind the net and had no chance to recover.
It was Hertl’s 23rd goal of the season, and Barabanov (20) and Burns (33) picked up assists. “It’s so nice because lately, the chances, I couldn’t bury them and help the team,” Hertl said. “This one, in overtime, for sure felt really nice, and hopefully I can get a little more going.”
Since “Beat L.A.” is a popular Northern California chant in all sports, this one will feel especially good for players, coaches and fans. It’s a feel-good moment in what has been a tough season.
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.