Coming off of an 8-7 victory over the Arizona Coyotes, the San Jose Sharks knew that they need to be better defensively if they wanted to be able to contend. While there were still some mishaps that led to brutal goals in last night’s victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, it was a much better all-around effort, which is hopefully a step in the right direction.
The Flyers got on the board first, quickly creating a 3-on-2 opportunity that allowed Morgan Frost to record his second goal of the season. James Reimer was helpless there, left out to dry by the defense, and all he could do was watch the puck go in.
In the second period, Logan Couture managed to chip the puck around Flyers defenseman Keith Yandle — who played horribly on defense all game — and sniped the puck on rookie goaltender Felix Sandstrom while the Sharks were on the penalty kill, to tie the game. Couture had a great game all around, and that play was the cherry on top of his efforts.
Captain Couture scores to tie the game pic.twitter.com/e6Hm7zLbji— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) December 31, 2021
Not long afterward, Tomas Hertl sent the puck to Brent Burns, who found himself with all the space in the world in the slot thanks to poor coverage by defender Ivan Provorov. Burns buried the puck to give the Sharks their first lead of the game.
It seemed as though San Jose would squeak by with a tough regulation win, but Mike Yeo’s Flyers don’t have any quit in them. With just over four minutes remaining in the third period, Flyers forward Joel Farabee quickly wristed the puck past Reimer and beat him cleanly to tie the game at two goals and send it to overtime.
This marked the Flyers’ fourth consecutive overtime game, including the previous night, which saw a 3-2 overtime victory in Seattle. The extra frame began with Philly getting a couple of shots off, while Tomas Hertl was a one-man wrecking crew for the Sharks. In the final 30 seconds of overtime, Erik Karlsson, who has tallied several nice assists lately, set up Hertl to bury it into the empty cage and win the game. It was just a perfect set-up by the star defenseman, who has seemed to resurrect his career this season.
Reimer had himself a solid game in net. As mentioned, the first goal was not on him in the slightest, as the team gave up an odd-man advantage, leading to an unmarked man with an easy put-away. The second goal from Farabee definitely could’ve been stopped, but it was also a very nice shot. In all, Reimer saved 23 shots, recording a .920 save percentage and 0.77 goals saved above expected (GSAx), meaning he did above what was expected with his workload.
A player who had himself a rough game was Timo Meier. He was weak around the boards in puck battles and caused the turnover that led to the game-tying goal late in the third period. In overtime, head coach Bob Boughner decided to bench Meier, to little surprise.
Nieto to start OT with Couture instead of Meier -- that's a message— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) December 31, 2021
“Timo’s been one of our best players this year [...] You have to hold everyone to the same standard,” Boughner told media postgame. He wasn’t shy with disciplining Meier among other players last season, and you’d have to wonder if it becomes a possibility again if the young forward continues with the effort he displayed last night.
The rookie Sandstrom earned a hat tip last night for guarding the Flyers’ crease. This was the 24-year-old’s first NHL game and he managed to stop 43 shots and record a 1.60 GSAx. Ultimately, he didn’t get the win, but he was a big reason the Flyers had a chance to steal this one from the Sharks. They didn’t play well for the most part, and if it weren’t for a couple of defensive mishaps, I don’t think they would have scored one goal, let alone two.
Reimer had high praise for Sandstrom, telling media that “We should spend 30 seconds talking about [Sandstrom]. He should be proud playing his first game.”
All-in-all, this was a dominant offensive performance for the Sharks. They managed to control play for the majority of the game and put themselves in a position to win. They led in expected goals, 4.60 to 2.77 — quite a wide margin — and outshot the opposition by 21. If they continue to play like this and fine-tune their defensive game a bit more, this team could battle competitively in the Pacific Division, something that I think no one expected coming into the season.
For now, I’d like to wish everybody who reads my content and all the content here at Fear the Fin a very happy new year, and I’m excited to see what this Sharks team can bring in 2022. The next game will come against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 2, 2022.