The Carolina Hurricanes rolled into San Jose with all the confidence of a team at the top of the league’s standings. In contrast, the San Jose Sharks were due for a win after an up and down performance over the past few weeks. Drifting away from their identity in recent games, the Sharks’ losses have been attributed to gaps in their defensive coverage and a lack of quality shot attempts.
San Jose has the confidence and the chemistry to return to their early-season success, but their lack of consistent goal-scoring over the past month means that the possibility for Evander Kane’s return to the line-up is even more in question. Will the Sharks choose to jeopardize their off-ice locker room environment for their on-ice success? The more the Sharks struggle in the standings, the more that potentiality becomes likely, especially with Kane being spotted at Sharks Ice recently and management still quiet on how they’re approaching the situation. At least once during every media session, whether it be post-practice or post-game, head coach Bob Boughner is asked about Kane, and his recurring answer is that he just doesn’t know.
That tells us two things; first, that the Sharks are continuing to treat Kane as a bridge they’ll cross when they get to it (and that bridge is fast approaching at the end of November), and second, whatever decision the team makes about him, Boughner clearly doesn’t have much of a hand in it.
The potential return of Kane is looming on the horizon, and I can only wonder if that’s affecting the locker room at all, even unconsciously. Regardless, it’s the current Sharks players who will play a part in the final decision: are they playing well enough to justify keeping him off the roster?
If the Sharks are playing to prove that they like their roster where it’s at, then the first period was a strong start. Forwards Lane Pederson and Jonathan Dahlen were both out of the line-up with injuries, so Scott Reedy, the San Jose Barracuda’s points-leader, made his NHL debut, with Noah Gregor also in the line-up for the second night in a row. Last night also marked Sharks defender Erik Karlsson’s 800th NHL game.
Hurricanes defender Ethan Bear tested positive for COVID once the Hurricanes made it to San Jose, so Brendan Smith stepped in for him.
The Sharks tested the ‘Canes early with the first two shots of the game generating two quality scoring chances. All four lines were rolling and each of Tomas Hertl, Gregor, and Jasper Weatherby set the tone with their aggressive attack. While the first five minutes were in favor of the Sharks, the next five swung the other way. Eventually the first period remained scoreless with a high-energy, end-to-end pace of play for both teams. The Sharks were lucky when a few messy defensive plays in their own zone nearly led to a Hurricanes goal, but goaltender James Reimer was determined to win against his former team.
Offensive has been a challenge in the last few games, but the first period generated sustained offensive pressure and the Sharks were more consistent in getting off quick shots on net. While the Sharks relied mostly on dump-ins versus clean breakouts, the improvements to last game were obvious.
The most obvious was the bottom pairing of Radim Simek and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. They both made head-up defensive plays, and were responsible for several clears, thwarting the Hurricanes’ shot attempts.
The second period opened with a Carolina goal, and it was the fifth straight period where the Sharks hadn’t scored. The rest of the second remained scoreless for either team, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The Sharks were fast and physical and were sustaining good pressure when they were in the offensive zone, but bad puck luck resulted in no goals.
Two missed open nets, a post for Balcers and leading pressure from Erik Karlsson, plus consistent faceoff domination, didn’t mean much. The effort and the energy was there for the Sharks throughout the majority of the second, but Raanta and the Canes’ defense was just too good.
The good news? Jasper Weatherby is the NHL’s rookie leader in faceoff wins. The Sharks entered the third period trailing 1-0, but at least one of the Sharks was leading in something.
The third period was all Sharks, but it wasn’t without its own frustrations. Through the first two periods, Brent Burns was without a shot on goal, and the Sharks were without a power play, even though there were several calls that were missed by the referees. The referees had missed so many obvious calls to the point that the Sharks players were speaking to them directly about the lack of calls at the end of the second.
Kevin Labanc, who has been shuffled around the lines as a way for the coaching staff to motivate him, put it together from Jasper Weatherby and a neat play along the boards to send a quick wrist shot through Raanta to even up the score, at 1-1 early in the third.
After the goal, the game was even more physical and chippy, and a ‘refs you suck’ chant started up in SAP Center when Erik Karlsson was taken out on a breakaway with no interference call.
The last few minutes of the third were frenetic in the best way possible, with an energy from the second line that we hadn’t seen since the first few games of the season. Eventually, Rudolfs Balcers drew the first power play opportunity in over 100 minutes of game time after he was tripped by Brett Pesce with less than two minutes to go. The third period ended with a tied score and a skater-advantage for the Sharks that carried over into overtime.
In the extra frame, the second power play unit came out for the 4-on-3 and got things done. Mario Ferraro corralled the puck to Hertl, who shot it in looking for a rebound to open up space on the left side of the net. Alex Barabanov understood the assignment, and cleaned it up and put it in the back of the net.
The Sharks won it in overtime, after incredible effort and energy, to hand the Carolina Hurricanes their first overtime loss of the season.
Oh, and James Reimer? He had himself quite the night with 22 saves on 23 shots, and a .957 save percentage.