The San Jose Sharks had a brief win streak under their belts — three games — before Thursday night’s 3-0 shutout loss to the New York Rangers stifled their building confidence. Adin Hill started in net for his fourth game in a row with James Reimer still on injured reserve.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were hungry early after having lost on Thursday night, as well, falling 6-2 to the Los Angeles Kings. The game opened with a swinging pendulum of chances. The Penguins were faster and cleaner with the puck, but the Sharks were able to generate a barrage of shots on goal when in the attacking zone. They weren’t in it often, but when they had the zone time, they made it count.
Netminder Louis Domingue was sharp early, and so were the posts, but the Sharks leaned on their tried-and-true method of shoot first and fast, so it was only a matter of time before something went in.
And when it went in, it went in. Rudolfs Balcers shook off the dust with a nifty redirect right into a yawning cage, on a pass from Erik Karlsson. The pass to Karlsson was just a little bit off by Timo Meier, but it didn’t matter; Karlsson was able to turn it right to the tape of Balcers, to send the Sharks up 1-0 early in the first period.
BRB, going to put this on loop for the next decade;
The elation fizzled soon after; Kris Letang was sprung for a 1-on-1 breakaway off a stretch pass from Jake Guentzel and was able to loft it on the backhand over Hill’s blocker side. With eight minutes left in the period, the score was equal at one.
Barely a minute after the Penguins’ goal, Balcers took a high-sticking penalty against Evan Rodrigues, but the Sharks’ penalty kill, which is among the more successful in the league, cleaned it up, even if the momentum from the power play led to a series of high-quality shots from the Penguins after the penalty expired.
The rest of the first period remained locked at one, with the majority of the veterans like Karlsson and Brent Burns taking on a large role when it came to directing offense.
To start the second period, Matt Nieto was getting bugged on his way to the net, which led to him getting bumped into Domingue and careening down onto the ice, with Mike Matheson bullying him to the wall for an impromptu dog pile. It was a good scoring chance that ended in a scuffle, but it showed another return to form for the Sharks: an emphasis on physicality.
The young guns like Adam Raska and Jeffrey Viel have been throwing (and taking) hits, and fringe players like Viel or Jonah Gadjovich have been fighting as a way to differentiate themselves from the crowd — and prove that they deserve to stay up in the big leagues. It’s an unfortunate reality of the NHL that prompts more single-use players to lean into fighting as a way to endear themselves to the team.
The stronger the chemistry in the locker room (often strengthened by a player dropping the mitts for another), the smoother the communication on the ice. Seeing the Sharks play physical for one another by throwing hits and dropping the gloves is a positive (if at times gruesome) trend in the right direction.
Halfway through the second period, it was clear that it wouldn’t be a goaltender battle on the Penguins’ end. Domingue, while he had yet to let in another goal since Balcers’ in the first period, was giving up rebounds like it was going out of style. San Jose had yet to fully capitalize upon the chances, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Noah Gregor just seems cursed at this point with how many pucks almost went in.
In contrast, Hill was giving up no rebounds, which was a smart move, considering the Sharks can be unreliable when it comes to net-front defensive coverage. As time wound down, the high-quality chances were multiplying for the Penguins and Hill had to make a few desperate saves to keep the score tied.
In the final minute of the period, Jonathan Dahlen took a high-stick to the mouth from Guentzel, which led to a four-minute double minor power play (there was blood). The second period expired before special teams could get anything set up, but that meant the Sharks began the third period with most of the first power play left on the clock.
The man-advantage struggled to get set up and led to more short-handed chances than shots on net. The Sharks are fully comfortable and capable with a tight score and potentially extra time, as evidenced by their 6-0 overtime win streak, so while they fought to extend the score, it wasn’t as huge of a pressure.
Hill had to work hard to preserve the possibility of an overtime win. The Penguins were leveling shots without the Sharks being able to effectively clear the zone for the majority of the first half of the third. The Sharks got a break and were able to regroup, but the Penguins were controlling most of the play.
Evgeni Malkin kicked the puck out of play, as only Evgeni Malkin could do without getting a penalty, but it didn’t matter, as Marcus Pettersson took an interference call just a minute later. It was the break San Jose needed to turn the tide in their favor.
Spoiler alert: it did not. Hill was forced to make big saves to keep the score tied to prompt overtime. The final five minutes were a flurry of activity, with the Penguins doing their best to avoid overtime, and the Sharks largely failing to bring the puck out of the zone.
On one such attempt, Nieto got caught up and went into Domingue again. It sent the Sharks to another power play, this time on Pettersson for cross-checking Nieto. It was another welcome opportunity to slow the Penguins down. Um, it did not, but it did wind some time down on the clock that wasn’t spent in panic mode in their own zone.
With one minute left in regulation, neither Domingue nor Hill made any move to leave for the bench, due to the constant back and forth of the play. The Sharks were content to bring on the extra frame, and the Penguins didn’t have a ton of choice in the matter, thanks to Hill.
Overtime is where the Sharks shine, but the streak had to end sometime. In under a minute, Sidney Crosby brought the puck right up to the right side of the net, which Hill then over-committed on. With an empty cage and Timo Meier behind him rather than to the side or front, Guentzel buried Crosby’s puck.
Despite a game filled with positives, the Sharks fell 2-1 in overtime.