If COVID-19 has got you down, you’re not alone. The NHL is scrambling to find a way to proceed with the season amid organizational outbreaks, cross-border concerns and postponed games piling up. Among other measures (with more changes to league rules to come) the NHL has reintroduced taxi squads, which gives teams some more flexibility when it comes to their line-ups.
The San Jose Sharks flexed their additional talent to fill in for Jonathan Dahlen and Adin Hill, the remaining Sharks players in COVID Protocol. Jayden Halbgewachs, Noah Gregor, Jeffrey Viel and Zachary Sawchenko were on the Sharks’ line-up for their tilt against the Arizona Coyotes.
The first period started with a spirited (and one-sided) fight between Jonah Gadjovich and Jan Janik, prompted by an uncalled cross-check by Gadjovich. In other news, Gadjovich looks extremely different without a beard, so much so that I didn’t recognize him and thought I was being hoodwinked.
Regardless, both he and Janik received off-setting roughing calls, Janik went to the locker room to get stitched up, and play went from there.
The first period was all energy, physicality, and unfortunately for the Sharks … turnovers. Weak passes have been the bane of the Sharks’ existence, and the sloppiness in the neutral zone was a hallmark of the entire game.
Alexander Barabanov opened scoring when Shayne Ghostisbehere was late in getting into position and opened up a shooting lane, but the Coyotes answered back soon enough. Lawson Crouse (ahem, Butterpig’s dad) capitalized upon an errant pass from Logan Couture that sailed right to the tape of a Coyotes player, to Crouse’s stick, then the back of the net.
Despite the high-velocity energy, the 10-day break was apparent in the messiness of the Sharks’ forecheck and the defensive miscues on their backcheck. As fun as a fast-paced game is, it never works in the Sharks’ favor. They’re by no means a “fast team,” which means that converting on small miscues and prompting offensive rushes isn’t in the team’s nature. And they won’t win a foot race. San Jose’s best games are the ones in which they can slow down the neutral zone, sit back and play their system, allowing ample time for everyone to get into position and Reimer to see what’s in front of him.
Andrew Ladd took a minor roughing call on Viel, giving the Sharks an unsuccessful power play, but then, Nick Bonino did what he was brought to San Jose to do.
The Sharks’ offense has been lacking, and while they’ve been putting shots on the net, nothing has been going in, which is why set plays have been a focal point in practice. Goaltender Scott Wedgewood came out to challenge, and Bonino scooped up a planned pad rebound from Nieto to shoot it into an empty net. Just like it was drawn up in practice, the Sharks were up 2-1.
Arizona, again, didn’t take long to respond, though the fault rested mostly on the shoulders of Brent Burns, after a turnover behind the net led to a late Coyotes goal to tie the game at the end of the first. It was Janis Moser’s first NHL goal in his first NHL game.
The second period started off just as chaotic as the first, with sweeping, end-to-end play that left me unsure of whether or not the Sharks were getting better at their defensive coverage, or just at fixing their own mistakes.
Then, two unlikely heroes poured it on for a pair of goals — first, Radim Simek’s one-timer on a play set up by Halbgewachs (earning his first NHL point on the assist), and then Viel’s first NHL goal less than thirty seconds later.
But, much like the memory of that embarrassing thing you did in fifth grade, the Coyotes never go away, and Clayton Keller closed the gap a little more, making it 4-3.
Never fear, because Timo Meier and his baseball hands batted a flying puck right out of the air and into the back of the net, over Wedgewood’s right shoulder. Thankfully, it wasn’t a high-stick. Small mercies in a game that was both filled with near-constant mistakes from both teams, and the unexpected of goals and goal-scorers.
In the last two minutes of the second period, Halbgewachs took a holding penalty, which sent the Sharks to their top-rated penalty-kill; it was fifth in the NHL going into the game, but that definitely changed, as Moser scored his second of the game on the Coyotes’ power play.
Going into the third period, the Sharks were barely up, with a score of 5-4, but Tomas Hertl regained the two-goal lead with three minutes gone, with a one-timer from a nifty pass from Gregor.
If there was one bright spot during the game, it was Erik Karlsson. His explosive power, dominating presence and play-making were reminiscent of Karlsson-past. It was a bright spot to hold onto because, despite all of the goals, this was one of the Sharks’ worst games. Defensive miscues, loose passes and sloppy forecheck made this a much closer game than it should have been, considering Arizona’s record.
Crouse put the Coyotes within one, 6-5, halfway through the third period, and while much of the blame for the Sharks’ inability to maintain a significant lead rests at their feet, credit is due to the Coyotes’ consistent work ethic. The team doesn’t have top-end talent, or a general ability to win games, but it does have heart, and they aren’t as bad of a team as their record (or hockey twitter) would have you believe.
That being said, they were helped by the Sharks, as evidenced by Gadjovich’s holding penalty, which sent them to another power play. The Coyotes weren’t able to convert it into a goal, but it was a near thing.
With under seven minutes, the Sharks were fighting for every inch of ice, and a combined play from Karlsson, Barabanov and Couture extended the Sharks’ lead, 7-5, which sent a collective sigh of relief through the arena. To top it all off, the Sharks were awarded a power play. The team couldn’t do anything with it, but they were able to hold onto their lead regardless, which was all that mattered.
I mean, barely, because Ghostisbehere made it a one-goal game again after a puck was deflected off a Sharks defenseman. Not naming names here because the Sharks had a bigger problem when Burns took a penalty with less than two minutes to go, putting the Coyotes on a huge advantage, and they took control of it. Ladd tied the game at seven goals each.
Yes, you heard that right. With a minute left, the game was tied at seven goals, which held until the end of regulation, sending the Sharks to overtime in a game that frankly, had no business going to overtime. If the Coyotes were a better team, the Sharks would have been left in the dust in the first period.
Brent Burns drew a power play in overtime, but, like the rest of the game, the team wasn’t able to use the extra attacker to their advantage. As this game seemed wont to do, it went to a shootout, where James Reimer stymied both Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz, and with Couture and Hertl’s goals, the Sharks narrowly eked out the 8-7 win.