2021 Rookie Faceoff Recap, Game 2: Big Ben backstops 5-2 win

The Sharks rookies and goaltender Benjamin Gaudreau secure a 5-2 win over Vegas.

After a stunning 8-4 Game 1 defeat at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks’ rookies (led by Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale), the San Jose Sharks rookies bounced back for a 5-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights prospects in Game 2.

Goaltending prospect Benjamin Gaudreau got the start this game, and from puck drop he looked in control in net. The Sharks’ downfalls in Game 1 were gaps in defensive coverage, complicated (and unsuccessful) offensive movements and a struggling goaltender. While still not operating as a completely cohesive unit, Game 2 proved to be a step in the right direction for the Sharks, with more shots on goal and a solid netminder.

First Period

The first period started off with a hooking penalty on Vegas, just 16 seconds into the game. San Jose’s top power play unit (Jasper Weatherby, Adam Raška, William Eklund, Artemi Kniazev and Ozzy Wiesblatt) took to the ice, and the difference between Friday’s game and today’s was immediately noticeable in the Sharks’ quick, lateral play. The Golden Knights had also lost their first game of the showcase and matched the Sharks in pace of play and physicality in the opening period.

As the period wore on, the Sharks’ problems with defensive coverage began to rear its head, with Vegas being given too much space to take high-quality shots. That theme continued throughout the game, although Gaudreau had no problem settling down those shots. He looked comfortable in net from the start, which no doubt gave his team some confidence.

It wasn’t long before a string of penalties took place, coming at the 14:43 mark, with Mason Primeau (VGS) hooking Daniil Gushchin, sending the Sharks on their second power play of the game. Less than a minute later, Vegas took another penalty, this time a Delay of Game call for a puck launched out of play. While on the man-advantage, Jasper Weatherby scored a goal with a close range backhand shot that slipped in right under the bar, breaking the ice for the Sharks, 1-0 at 12:00.

From there, the Sharks and Vegas stayed mostly in the neutral zone, until Brandon Coe skated to the left post, and received the puck from Daniil Guschin, sending in on the left-wing side, bringing the score to 2-0 in favor of the Sharks with 4:46 left in the period.

To end the first, Vegas was developing plays well, and the Sharks’ defense was letting the Knights have too many good chances in the high slot, but they couldn’t get past Gaudreau.

Second Period

The second period began with the Sharks leading 2-0, the first time so far in the showcase. Much like the first, the second began with a mish-mash of penalties and goals. At 19:23, Laroque was called for a trip on Chayka (VGS), which sent Vegas to the power play, and a powerplay goal at 19:15, a one-timer from Dugan that went five-hole on Gaudreau, who wasn’t able to move to the left side quick enough. At 18:53 another Delay of Game penalty was awarded to Vegas, for another puck over the glass.

San Jose started the second flat-footed, but as the game wore on, the team looked more cohesive and energized. At 12:45, Wiesblatt was called for tripping, and Vegas was on their second power play of the period but weren’t able to score. At 10:27, Hayes (VGS) hit Santeri Hatakka high, which he took offense to, and both Hayes and Hatakka were given coincidental roughing penalties for the extracurriculars they engaged in after the hit. At 7:38, Montana Onyebuchi scored short side and off the point, with a quick, high shot that surprised Jesper Vikma, Vegas’ netminder off his game.

San Jose ended the period leading by two, with a score of 3-1 to start the third.

It was clear in this period that while the Sharks were becoming more comfortable with each other, there were still issues with converting on big chances or misplays by the opponent. The Sharks rookies also needed to be less precious with their shooting chances; several times during this period players like Eklund or McGrew had scoring chances, but hesitated and passed or deked instead of taking the shot.

Third Period

I’m not sure if it’s Arizona or what, but the third opened with another penalty, with a tripping call given as a Delay of Game penalty on the Sharks one minute and 13 seconds into the period. Nothing came of Vegas’ power play, but at 16:14 Scott Reedy scored short side of an odd-man rush, catching Vikma again under his catching mitt, putting the Sharks up 4-1.

True to form, a penalty followed at 15:42, and the slash on Gushchin put San Jose on the power play. While they didn’t score then, the Sharks’ power play units have been the most successful aspect of their offensive production, in that they’re naturally given space with the man advantage. So far in this showcase, the Sharks rookies have struggled to create space in the offensive zone.

At 13:51, Raška was called for holding, sending Vegas to the power play, and while that chance didn’t pan out, Jakub Demek threw a soft puck towards the net, and McCallum sent it through the five-hole, tipping it in from the right side, putting them within two goals.

Vegas pulled Vikma to get an extra attacker on the ice, but William Eklund capitalized upon the lack of coverage and scored an empty-netter for a 5-2 lead. This is Eklund’s first goal in a Sharks jersey.

The game ended much the same way it began, with Dillon Hamaliuk called for a hooking penalty, putting Vegas on the power play for the final 40 seconds of the game. The Sharks rookies took a 5-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.

The biggest question will be who will start in net for tomorrow’s 9 a.m. game against the Colorado Avalanche — Benjamin Gaudreau, or Zach Emond?