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Quick Bites: Tired Sharks fall to Leafs

Sharks fall 4-1 to the Leafs at home. It’s the stealth jerseys, isn’t it?

Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks takes a face-off against David Kampf #64 of the Toronto Maple Leafs in a regular season game at SAP Center on November 26, 2021 in San Jose, California. Photo by Amanda Cain/NHLI

After a few roster changes — Jonah Gadjovich was in, Scott Reedy was out, and Jonathan Dahlen and Lane Pederson are still on Injured Reserve — the San Jose Sharks suited up for a rematch against the Toronto Maple Leafs with all the momentum and confidence of two wins in a row.

This game was the last of the Sharks’ November homestand, and their final home game before Evander Kane’s suspension ends and throws the Sharks for a loop (the Sharks’ next game will be the last before Kane is eligible to play).

If it felt like the Sharks were under pressure to perform well and prove that not only has the team found their identity again, but that they’re better without Kane in the locker room, then this was the game to prove it.

James Reimer made his fifth start in six games, which was fitting, considering it was the Maple Leafs who drafted him 16 years ago.

Three goals were scored in the first five minutes of the game, which just goes to show that sometimes it’s not the goaltenders who reign supreme, it’s the offense. William Nylander opened scoring in the first 40 seconds, with a fast break that took both Reimer and the rest of the Sharks by surprise.

At that point, I had to wonder if it was the stealth jerseys' fault; it feels like the Sharks lose every time they wear them. But it wasn’t lights out for the Sharks, even if they were down early. They had energy and momentum, and it only grew when Nick Bonino equalized the score just a few minutes later. I think the monkey is off his back, don’t you?

Unfortunately, barely a minute later Wayne Simmonds gave the Leafs the lead on a flukey redirect. Toronto was playing with confidence, but so were the Sharks. How could they not be? Alex Barabanov was playing his former team, Marc-Edouard Vlasic was playing his 1,100th NHL game (all with the Sharks, and only the third player in franchise history to do so), and despite their high turnovers (5 total in the first), the Sharks were playing well defensively.

That would not remain for the second or third periods.

The early goals in the first period weren’t a hallmark for the next 15 minutes, even with some high-quality chances. The Sharks had solid offensive zone movement and time, compounded by great attacks. The second line (Barabanov, Tomas Hertl and Noah Gregor) generated a significant amount of dangerous shots, and while Toronto was faster, the Sharks weren’t left behind.

If the first five minutes were insane, the last five were fun too. First, Barabanov made me swoon with the slickest display of hands I’ve seen from a Sharks player in a while, with his between-the-legs toe drag around Simmonds.

It didn’t go in, but c’mon, just look at that finesse. It should be on the highlight reel anyway.

After that, Rudolfs Balcers made a quick break that led to Joseph Woll (playing in his third-ever NHL game) zooming toward him way and out of the crease to poke-check Balcers so hard that Woll accidentally yeeted the puck into the crowd. Which was all fun and games for Woll (the camera panned to show him chuckling behind his mask) until the Leafs were served a delay of game penalty for his tom-foolery.

The first period ended with the Leafs up 2-1, the Sharks maintaining pace and one question after two unsuccessful power plays; was the Leafs’ penalty kill that good, or was the Sharks’ power play worse than I thought?

(Hint: It’s worse than I thought.)

For all the fire and excitement of the first period, the Sharks were flat-footed the entire second period. After a barrage of sustained chances for Toronto, Auston Matthews finally scooped up a rebound off Reimer’s chest and put it in the back of the net to give Toronto a two-goal lead. Then the Sharks went on their third power play of the game. Nothing happened — except for a short-handed breakaway by Alex Kerfoot, saved only by Reimer and the grace of God, apparently. Maybe I’m just bitter, but I don’t remember Kerfoot being as good as he was against the Sharks as he was in Colorado.

Timo Meier was guilty of a few turnovers, Gregor missed the net and then Vlasic took an interference penalty. The Leafs had the eighth-best power play in the NHL to start the game, and they kept the tired Sharks pinned in their own zone until John Tavares put them out of their misery and scored to make it 4-1.

Head coach Bob Boughner decided to send a message to the rest of the team by pulling Reimer and sending Adin Hill out to finish the game. It wasn’t a remark on Reimer, who, despite the first goal, had been left out to dry by his team who were seemingly incapable of clearing the puck. Hill was in net the last time the Sharks faced the Leafs (a 5-3 win).

The Sharks ended the second with Hill in net, a marginal increase in their offensive production by way of Radim Simek and Rudolfs Balcers, and down 4-1.

I wish I could say that the Sharks pulled it together in the third period for the comeback win.

They tried their best, with the period book-ended by a series of fast breaks, more shot attempts, and some jump, particularly by Brent Burns to start, and forwards Jasper Weatherby and Kevin Labanc toward the end.

But as much as it pains me, the Leafs were the better team throughout; they played a cleaner, more concise game with tight checking and rolling lines. The game ended the way it began, with the final five minutes consumed by heart-stopping close calls for the Sharks and end-to-end play. The late push wasn’t enough, however, and the Leafs took their final game against the Sharks this season as a 4-1 win.

It’s obvious the Sharks’ power play needs to be reconfigured ahead of Sunday’s game in Chicago, but until then, all I have to ask is this; how dare the Sharks’ stealth jersey promo video be so good, but the team’s record in them so abysmal?