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Winning Play: Why was Donskoi demoted?

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San Jose Sharks right wing Joonas Donskoi (27) against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period at SAP Center at San Jose.  Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

It would’ve been easy to miss Joonas Donskoi’s demotion in last night’s raucous 6-5 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins.

To call it an eventful contest would be an understatement — the San Jose Sharks roared back from a 3-0 deficit, Joe Thornton was a goal away from whipping it out, Joe Pavelski and Zdeno Chara were swinging sticks at each other like it was “Slapshot,” Chris Wagner netted a controversial tying goal — it was a contest so eventful, Donskoi being shuttled from San Jose’s top line since December to the fourth line was a drop in a bucket. In his place, Lukas Radil moved up.

“I thought Donny could’ve been better. That was a heavy game out there,” Peter DeBoer explained. “I thought Radil was giving us a little bit more of that.”

If you can believe it, Donskoi (27) enjoyed a promising beginning to his evening.

On his first shift, he sealed Danton Heinen (43) off, forcing the puck back.

Next, as Boston was forming an attack triangle, Donskoi identified the free man, snuffing out a dangerous Charlie McAvoy (73) bid.

It was a strong start for Donskoi. But indeed, it would be a weak finish. By my count, Donskoi would lose five of his next six 50-50 battles.

Donskoi had a step to a loose puck, but Patrice Bergeron (37) tracked him down from behind. Tomas Hertl (48) recovered.

About 30 seconds later, Chris Wagner (14) tracked Donskoi down from behind.

Both vying for a loose puck, Kevan Miller (86) chopped Donskoi’s stick, paving the way for Sean Kuraly (52) to pick it up.

Pressured by Jake DeBrusk (74), Donskoi turned the puck over into Karson Kuhlman’s (83) skates.

It would be one thing for the 6-foot-0 Donskoi to be held off on the forecheck by the 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara. It’s another thing when it’s the 6-foot-0 McAvoy.

DeBoer had seen enough; this was Donskoi’s last shift with Hertl and Kane. At the next possible opportunity, Radil (52) flanked Hertl and Evander Kane (9).

Funny enough, NHL.com credited Radil’s first shift with Hertl and Kane to Donskoi:

Meanwhile, Donskoi joined Barclay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson for good to close the second period.

Donskoi hasn’t scored a goal in 14 games and has just five assists in that stretch, but that wasn’t why he got demoted. More often than not, the Finnish winger can be counted on to make the big little plays, utilize his speed and smarts to win his share of 50-50 battles.

“That’s pretty easy to fix. I just have to be harder. I have to be smarter, read the one-on-one battles better,” said Donskoi. “When I’m good, I’m heavy and strong on the puck.”

But last night, to offer a hockey cliche, Donskoi simply wasn’t hard enough to play against.

“It’s always a wake-up call when you get out of your line,” Donskoi admitted.