The San Jose Sharks have been searching for their identity throughout their return from the holiday break with a series of blow-out losses through the first half of the four-game road trip. The team met the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 30, just nine days ago, resulting in a 3-2 overtime win for the Sharks.
Since then, San Jose has allowed more than 14 goals, lost Erik Karlsson and Jake Middleton to injuries, James Reimer has been listed as day-to-day (and needing a reset) and Nick Bonino joined Logan Couture and Lane Pederson in COVID Protocol. It’s been a busy nine days.
Of course, this game is highlighted by the return of former Sharks goaltender, Martin Jones, in net for the Philadelphia Flyers. He did not play in the Dec. 30 game, but as a fan of his game, I think he’s been unfairly maligned at times and it’s nice to see him have a bounce-back season so far.
The first five minutes of the game were … boring. Early puck possession leaned toward the Sharks, but the pace of play was relatively sedate, which was surprising considering the Flyers had lost their last four games, and the Sharks were just two points out of a playoff berth in the Western Conference. These teams should have been hungry, but the depleted rosters on both ends were obvious in the opening of the game.
With the lack of urgency, partially due to last-game-of-the-road-trip syndrome, it looked to be a goaltending battle early on. Both Jones and Adin Hill looked calm and confident in net, and each easily handled some relatively high-danger chances — a wrap-around attempt from Timo Meier on Jones and shot by Scott Laughton on Hill — with ease.
In the first half, the Sharks were sent to an unsuccessful and uninteresting power play after Joel Farabee was called for a trip on Tomas Hertl behind the Sharks’ net. The rest of the period finished the way it started: quiet and scoreless. I’m not going to lie; the first period nearly sent me to sleep.
The Sharks started the second period with more energy, and some end-to-end play led to a couple of high-quality chances. The first five minutes of the second also led to more bad news — Jonah Gadjovich, who had been on the fourth line, would not return to the game due to an injury in the first period. He played about two shifts (1:07 of ice time), which leads me to believe that whatever lagging injury he may have been nursing after he was banged up at the start of the road trip reared its head.
A lack of energy from their road trip, plus a revolving door line-up, not much happened in the first half of the second, beyond a rare Kate Scott appearance on the broadcast (If you miss Kate Scott in the Bay Area sports scene as I do, she became the first female play-by-play broadcaster for the Philadelphia 76ers).
The final ten minutes of the second period led to more physicality (prompted largely by Timo Meier), and more of a push from both teams. It was a low penalty game, which is becoming somewhat of a theme for the Sharks, so much of the period was spent at 5-on-5.
Hill settled a short break away, and the Flyers began to press the Sharks in their own zone before the play was whistled dead for a penalty. Jaycob Megna was called for interference, which let Philadelphia capitalize upon the momentum they had building up until that point in the game.
The second period ended with more energy from both sides, but still scoreless. It was still truly anyone’s game and Philly wasn’t going away.
The third began with several almost-chances for the Sharks. First Meier, then Alexander Barabanov, then Jasper Weatherby — but the puck went the other way, and James van Riemsdyk quickly found the top-corner, besting Hill on his glove side.
Jeffrey Viel had his own chance not long afterward, from a stretch pass by Brent Burns, but the Flyers’ defense was ready to shut it down. Then came a Flyers 2-on-1 break that was knocked down by Hill. With just one goal on the board, both teams pushed for more, shooting the puck as soon as it landed on their tape.
On a Flyers rush, Viel was called for tripping on Oskar Lindblom at the blue line, and the Sharks were sent to an ill-timed penalty kill, down one goal with under 15 minutes left. They weren’t able to clear the puck after losing the faceoff, and the power play goal went to van Riemsdyk after batting it over the shoulder of Hill. An assist went to rookie defender (and Anaheim native) Cam York, notching his first NHL career point.
Suddenly, the Sharks were still null on the board compared to JVR’s two goals for the Flyers. Tomas Hertl came to the rescue, sliding a puck right past Jones. Meier drove to the net, and while he was parked out front, Hertl sent the puck in to break the shutout.
After some back and forth action, a 2-on-1 sprung by Nick Merkley, Jonathan Dahlen and Noah Gregor just missed an open net, but at the very least, drew a penalty. Flyers winger Gerry Mayhew was called for a slash and the Sharks were given an opportunity to equalize the score.
There was a short-handed chance for Farabee, but a fun, snow angel-esque kick led to Farabee going topsy-turvy into the net behind Hill and the puck went the other way. The power play expired, Nick Seeler, Weatherby and Gregor had some extracurriculars, and the net was knocked off its hinges.
But the kids gave the Sharks what they needed: a boost in the energy levels. Once the veterans came in, they got the job done. Burns and Meier set up Hertl in a scramble in front of the net, and he equalized the score with less than five minutes in regulation.
It was enough to send the game to overtime. Just 30 seconds into overtime, who but Tomas Hertl to net the goal (and natural hat trick) from Timo Meier. It was Hertl’s 20th goal of the season and his second hat trick of the year.
Hertl’s one-man effort is likely unsustainable, and the Sharks are going to be hoping to get their big guns back soon. Still, it was fun to watch two raw teams figure things out while Hertl dominated.