Andrew Cogliano returned to the San Jose Sharks line-up after departing from the team briefly for a family emergency. His return came at the perfect time, as Rudolfs Balcers was out with an undisclosed lower-body injury and the Sharks were seeking a bounce back game after their winning record was deflated by a 1-0 shutout loss to the New York Rangers.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have followed a similar trajectory as the Sharks this season. Bobbing around the middle of the standings (currently fifth in the Metropolitan Division), the Blue Jackets have been decidedly average this year — better than last year with their new coach, Brad Larsen, but without any real success. In the strength of a division that includes the likes of the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals, if the Blue Jackets make a bid for the playoffs, it’ll be in a wild card spot.
There’s been inconsistency among the Sharks’ second line, with Tomas Hertl blowing the lid off the Shark tank some games, then being invisible in the next. Prior to today’s game, head coach Bob Boughner sat down with Hertl to touch base with him.
It was the third start in a row for Adin Hill and his first against the Blue Jackets, with James Reimer still under the weather. Out sick was Reimer and me both — the amount of caffeine I consumed for this game was unholy, and while I adore the Sharks’ press box (and the free snacks!) there’s nothing like covering a road game in your PJs in bed. Just me?
The Blue Jackets, like the Sharks, have been struggling with generating offense from all four lines and Columbus was working early to snap their scoring drought. The first period was all fast, end-to-end play, complete with highlight-reel worthy saves from Elvis Merzlikins on a series of dangerous chances, first from Cogliano and Nick Bonino, then again with Noah Gregor, and then again with Timo Meier.
The two teams were evenly matched throughout, with relatively equal puck possession and zone time between the pair. The Sharks had more odd-man rushes, but the Blue Jackets clogged the neutral zone and controlled the majority of the faceoff circle. Hill and Merzlikins were excellent, and though not much happened in the way of penalties or goals, it was an exciting first 20 minutes.
Adam Boqvist opened scoring late in the period with a top-corner shot on a poor poke-check and just above Hill’s glove. It showcased a recurring weakness of Hill’s — high-glove shots on the left side.
The deficit didn’t last long. Bonino, Matt Nieto and Cogliano brought it together for a late goal that began deep in the corners. Boughner has spoken about how important it is to battle for the puck deep in the trapezoid and the corners and this goal was exactly that. Nieto pooped the puck off the net, and Bonino cleaned it up in front, with less than a minute to go in the first.
The second period started with goals, goals and more goals. At this point, the Sharks’ blue line was rolling, and just 21 seconds into the period, Erik Karlsson scored to give the Sharks their first lead. The play began with Alexander Barabanov driving the puck deep along the boards, turning back up and sending it to Karlsson for the one-timer while Gregor screened Merzlikins.
Just take a look at this play:
EK65 blasts a wrister from the point to give the Sharks the lead pic.twitter.com/kcg913wXt6— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) December 6, 2021
Not to be left behind, the Blue Jackets’ Sean Kuraly (formerly of the Boston Bruins) evened the score. Brent Burns went down to block a shooting lane too early, leaving Mario Ferraro to defend alone on a 2-on-1 breakaway.
If Burns’ defensive mistake led to the Jackets’ tying the game, he redeemed himself with his own goal, a huge one-timer off another amazing feed from Nieto. Maybe the key to blowing past Merzlikins is a ridiculously high-powered shot from the point. I wouldn’t want to get between a Karlsson or Burns one-timer either. With Burns’ goal, he tied with Zdeno Chara for 18th place in the league for all-time scoring by a defenseman.
In the final five minutes of the period, Jonathan Dahlen was in the trapezoid with the puck on his stick, and Merzlikins left his net to hip check Dahlen into the boards and send him to the ice. Thankfully not an interference call against the Sharks (Dahlen did have the puck), but I bet he was confused about what just happened.
Nothing good lasts, apparently. With two minutes left, rookie Cole Sillinger — the youngest player in the league currently — scooped up a rebound from Ferraro that just beat Hill short-side off the blocker.
Immediately after the goal, Karlsson was called for holding, with some time on the Blue Jackets’ power play carrying over into the third period.
The third period began with San Jose flatfooted and Columbus ready to push. Radim Simek and Karlsson were slightly out of position, and a misplay by Hill led to a goal by Jack Roslovic. For the second time in the game, the Jackets led by one goal, now 4-3.
As the Sharks began to gain their footing and the ice started to open up, the Jackets hit a burst of speed and Boqvist earned his second goal of the game, again on a high, short-side shot. What had been trading goals up to this point turned into an edge for the Blue Jackets, despite the Sharks leading in shots.
Where the Sharks had energy and speed in the first two periods, the third was distinctly slower. Columbus’ physicality paired with the last leg of a five-game road trip was proving to be exhausting.
Hertl slowed Columbus’ roll with 10 minutes left. Dahlen scooped the puck away from where Meier was protecting it along the boards and got it to Hertl, who, like Burns, went right under the arm of Merzlikins, to put the Sharks within one. All of a sudden, the game was back within reach and the Sharks were back to playing like it.
The veterans and blue line were putting in the work, trying to get a tying goal to bring it to overtime. Former Sharks forward Gustav Nyquist tried to reestablish the lead with three and a half minutes left, but after a successful challenge by the Sharks bench, it was called back for being offside.
For any Nyquist fans who miss him, don’t worry — at the expense of dashing the Sharks’ dreams of overtime, he assisted on the empty-net goal for the Blue Jackets, selflessly passing the puck to young center Alexandre Texier for his eighth goal of the season.
The Sharks battled hard and put up a good fight, but Adin Hill will want some of those goals back. To close out the road trip, the Sharks fell, 6-4, to the Blue Jackets. Time to head home.