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Cuda Corner: Signs of resilience in a COVID-disrupted week

The Barracuda get their first home win of the season to cap off a wild week in the organization.

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 7: against the Texas Stars at SAP Center on November 7, 2021 in San Jose, California. NHLI via Getty Images

The San Jose Sharks’ coronavirus outbreak had a trickle-down effect on their AHL affiliates, the San Jose Barracuda. With seven players hitting the COVID Protocol, the Sharks had to call seven players up from the Barracuda, including defensemen Ryan Merkley and Jaycob Megna, and forwards Nick Merkley and John Leonard. In turn, this affected the Barracuda’s ability to field a team, with their Halloween night game against the Stockton Heat up in the 209 postponed.

The Barracuda then signed four players to professional try-out contracts (PTOs), including former Barracuda defenseman Patrick McNally, and additionally recalled four players from their unofficial ECHL affiliate in the Orlando Solar Bears. The shortages in the on the blue line.

Welcome to the Cuda Corner weekly roundup, where I take a look at the week that was for the Barracuda, what lies ahead, which players are hot and which players are, well, not.

Wednesday, Nov. 3 vs. Stockton Heat: 4-1 loss

After a hiatus lasting well over 600 days, the Barracuda once again re-kindled their rivalry with the Stockton Heat. The Heat were the hottest team in hockey going into this matchup, with a record of 5-0-1-0, and they certainly showed why, scoring three goals in the first period. The Heat’s Adam Ruziska, in particular, impressed in this game, scoring two goals in the first period. The Barracuda had four power plays in the game, but the second-ranked power play in the Pacific Division couldn’t make anything out of any of their opportunities. To the Heat’s credit, though, their penalty kill ranks first in the Pacific Division at 84.8 percent.

Despite a second-period goal by Scott Reedy, the short-handed Barracuda couldn’t get much else going, losing 4-1 to the Heat.

Saturday, Nov. 6 vs. Texas Stars: 7-3 loss

The Texas Stars came to town for the first game of a weekend set with the Barracuda on Saturday afternoon. The Stars are the only Central Division team the Barracuda will face this year, with the Barracuda traveling to Cedar Park in February to complete the four-game set. The Barracuda welcomed Noah Gregor back after being placed on the AHL’s COVID Protocol at the beginning of the week, and in turn, he scored the first goal of the game 12 minutes in.

Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there for the Barracuda, as the Stars’ potent offense scored seven goals, all in all. Notably, goaltender Zachary Emond made his first AHL appearance in the third period, replacing Alexei Melnichuk. Emond stopped 10 of 12 shots he faced in the 7-3 loss.

The Stars’ sixth goal of the game was not without controversy. Nicholas Caamano drove to the net and bowled over Emond in net. Despite Emond looking visibly hurt, there was no call, and Alex Petrovic cashed in on an open net.

“You know he’s out of it, there should’ve been a whistle, they let it go ... they got a break,” said Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer in post-game media availability. That might be putting it lightly.

Sunday, Nov. 7 vs. Texas Stars: 7-5 win

To quote a certain fictional soccer coach from Kansas, the Barracuda needed to be like goldfish after the previous day’s game, and they seemed to do just that, registering their first win on home ice on the season against the Stars.

Thankfully, Emond was alright after getting run over in the previous game, and was the starting goaltender on Sunday. The Barracuda can’t afford to lose any more players than they already have, so Emond being good to go was a big sigh of relief. The game was destined to be a wild one when recent call-up Jake McGrew scored only a minute and 43 seconds into the game to get the ‘Cuda on the board early. There were six total goals in in the first period, including a stretch where Oskar Back tied the game for the Stars, only for Dillon Hamaliuk to take the lead back for the Barracuda just one minute and nine seconds later.

After more back-and-forth action, the game went down to the wire, tied 5-5 until Joel Kellman scored on the power play with just under three minutes to go to put the Barracuda in front for good. Evan Weinger then cashed in on the empty net to seal the deal. The win marked Zachary Emond’s first professional win.

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Joachim Blichfeld is once again getting hot.

After an injury held him out of the Barracuda’s season opener, Blichfeld made his season debut on Oct. 22 against the Colorado Eagles in Loveland. It took him a minute to find his scoring touch, but he certainly found it in the weekend series against Texas, recording 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) in those two games. Once again playing first-line minutes, it may not be long until Blichfeld earns another call-up to the Sharks.

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Granted, it takes goaltenders much longer to develop than skaters usually do, but it’s certainly reasonable to be concerned with Alexei Melnichuk’s play in the first few games of the season.

The 23-year-old Russian netminder started the season well in Bakersfield, stopping 14 out of 15 shots, but his past four starts have not gone as well. In those starts, Melnichuk has allowed four or more goals in all of them, including a start against Texas during which he only made 13 saves out of 18 shots, and was relieved by Zachary Emond in the third period. Zach Sawchenko hasn’t appeared in the last three games since he is on the COVID list, but one might have to imagine that when Sawchenko is healthy, he’ll be getting the majority of the starts for the Barracuda going forward.

What’s Next

For the first time since the 2017-18 season, the Barracuda will be off to Canada, as they take on the Abbotsford Canucks in a weekend series. The first game of the series is on Friday with a 7 p.m. puck drop, followed by a game on Sunday with a 4 p.m. puck drop.