The Sharks (7-6-0) began their six-game road trip in Washington (8-3-1) on Tuesday night hoping to erase a three-game losing streak that culminated in a 5-0 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Having struggled to score all season, netting only 16 goals in 11 games, including just three in the last three games, the Sharks looked to their AHL affiliate for some offensive spark. Training camp standout and San Jose Barracuda scoring leader, Kevin Labanc, would make his NHL debut on the Shark’s 2nd line with Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi.
After turning heads in training camp, Labanc has continued to show NHL-readiness by leading all AHL rookies with 10 points, including 4 goals. The 2014 6th-rounder from Staten Island, NY led the Ontario Hockey League with 127 points (39 goals, 89 assists) last season topping notable NHL rookies like Mitch Marner, Dylan Strome and Matthew Tkachuk.
Sharks goaltender Martin Jones wasn’t asked to do much at the onset as the two teams skated to a scoreless first period. Jones was forced to make two great saves early in the second period while looking really determined and focused after being yanked his last start.
With 7:37 left in the second the Sharks would break through on a point shot from Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Vlasic, displaying his skating ability, maneuvered around the Capitals high winger creating a shooting angle just as Ward was working his stick free above the slot. It looked to deflect off someone or something on its way to the net.
Then just five minutes later, Brent Burns fed the puck up to Couture at the redline and he entered the zone on the far wall. Labanc cleared some space for a possible cross-ice pass to an open Donskoi. However, Couture pulled up and spun back towards to the boards to feed Burns streaking into the zone. Burns unleashed a wrister from the top of the right circle past Holty to extend the lead to 2-0.
Alexander Ovechkin came out buzzing to start the 3rd period with two high quality scoring chances in the opening minute. And that was just a preview of what was to come in the next twenty minutes as the Sharks dropped into prevent-mode failing to establish any real offensive zone time.
The Sharks had played a very disciplined game, surrendering just one power play opportunity early in the first period. That was until Brenden Dillon took a holding penalty trying to beat a Washington defenseman to the puck headed into the offensive zone. After doing a great job killing that penalty off, Labanc would be called for an offensive zone tripping penalty after his stick was tied up between T.J. Oshie’s legs behind the net.
The penalty kill got the job done once again and Holtby was pulled with 2:55 left in game. Joe Thornton scored his 2nd empty net goal of the season to seal the deal.
- Martin Jones has now started nine games in a row (4-5-0). He responded perfectly tonight with a 24 save shutout over the Capitals no less. Aaron Dell did see some ice time after Jones was pulled in the lost to the Penguins. The longer the Sharks wait to see what they’ve really got in Aaron Dell, the more leaning on Jones could hurt them later on in the season. I think it is safe to say we will see Dell (1-0-0) make his 2nd NHL start on this road trip.
- Remember that six game road trip the Sharks swept last year setting a franchise record? That all started with a win in Washington.
- Deboer attempted to set Labanc up for success putting him on the right side of Couture and Donskoi. That line served to standout the most through the first two periods of play. Labanc would record the game’s first shot and later on in the period that line was clicking again as Donskoi tested Holtly after some good work by both Labanc and Couture. Then, in the second they set up the Burns goal.
- Former LA King and Shark killer, Justin Williams was robbed by Jones three times and then fanned on what would have been an empty net goal late in the third.
Fear the Fin’s Three Stars
- Martin Jones
- Brent Burns
- Marc-Edouard Vlasic