Any time the San Jose Sharks face off against the Ottawa Senators, the storyline is always going to start with former Senators captain, Erik Karlsson. Last night was the fifth time Karlsson faced off against his former team since the trade that brought him to San Jose, and while he’s scored two assists in those five games, he was still looking for his first goal. Aside from Karlsson, former Sharks forward Chris Tierney, former Sharks prospect Josh Norris and Tim Stutzle (drafted with a Sharks pick) round out the fallout from the 2018 trade.
There was another familiar face on the Senators’ line-up — center Dylan Gambrell, who was traded to the Senators on Oct. 24 in return for a seventh-round pick.
The energy of the first period was undeniable. Whether it was Jacob Middleton’s impromptu fight with Auston Watson two minutes in, or the Sharks’ bitterness that the Senators were allowed to cancel games during their COVID outbreak while the Sharks couldn’t, the first period was scrappy and frenetic.
To begin and end the first period, San Jose had a multitude of quality scoring chances with a suspiciously large amount of odd-man rushes in spite of the Senators’ aggressive blue liners. Matt Nieto opened scoring with his first goal of the season. Jasper Weatherby drove toward the net, which drew the Senators’ defense to him, opening up a shooting lane for Nieto and sending the Sharks to a one-goal lead. The goal felt like it was just a matter of time, given the number of shots leveraged against Senators goaltender Matt Murray to that point.
Depth scoring has been a continued conversation, but with Nieto’s goal, and the success of the third line and Jasper Weatherby, goal-scoring may soon be a non-issue for the Sharks.
Goal-scoring may be heating up, but turnovers are still the bane of the Sharks’ existence. Rudolfs Balcers nearly cost the team a goal with fumbling giveaways in the defensive zone, and at times the Sharks were getting exhausted by the physicality of the Senators. Ottawa laid 13 hits in the first, to the Sharks’ 7.
The one-goal lead did not last. Norris exacted his revenge off a rebound off his own body (ouch) and the first period ended tied at one.
The second period was whiplash personified. In the first minute, a nifty give-and-go between Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier led to a quick, fast shot from Hertl and a 2-1 Sharks lead. It wasn’t a great goal on Murray’s part, but the momentum would soon swing to Senators’ favor.
Middleton was called for an admittedly weak slashing call, and while the Sharks killed off that, and then a series of penalties, their defense just wasn’t as quick or hard-working as the Senators.
Scott Reedy and Alex Barabanov both saw chances that nearly earned an equalizer, but it was a missed shot and accidental trip from Reedy that opened the floodgates for the Sens. Reedy’s penalty allowed for a minute and a half of 4-on-4 play (Marc-Edouard Vlasic had been slashed by Alex Formenton previously). Brady Tkachuk capitalized, sniping one past James Reimer.
After the power play ended, the Senators were left with a little less than 30 seconds on their own man-advantage, and Connor Brown gave the team a 3-2 lead.
Toward the final five minutes, the momentum was all Ottawa, until Tkachuk whacked Nieto in the face with a high-stick. On the power play, snake-bit Nick Bonino — skating in his 700th NHL game — netted the tying goal. It was his first NHL goal of the season, first point with San Jose and a huge relief. Seriously, I don’t know who was happier about his goal — him, or the bench. They were ecstatic.
The Sharks entered the third period tied 3-3 and buoyed by the joy of Nick Bonino’s ended point-drought.
If you’ve lost faith in the Sharks’ bottom-D pairing, then the third period maybe restored hope. During a confusing mix of penalties and power plays between the two teams (that led to nothing), Radim Simek was boarded by Auston Watson, which led to some extracurriculars, centered by Vlasic of in defense of Simek.
The pair played their best period of the season in the third. They were physical, but didn’t take unnecessary penalties, and they even drew some power plays for the Sharks. In fact, the Sharks looked how they did during the start of the season: fast, physical, and willing and able to battle back.
Meier gave the Sharks the lead with less than eight minutes remaining (Vlasic tallied an assist), and Logan Couture scooped the puck off the stick of an Ottawa player to get an unassisted empty-netter.
But if you thought the good news would end with Bonino, get ready, because Jake Middleton snagged his first-ever NHL goal on another empty-netter, after off-setting roughing calls on Nieto and Tkachuk sent them back to 4-on-4.
For the Sharks, the 6-3 win was a return to early-season glory, and a win to be excited about, especially for the players who needed it most.