Oh, what a difference good goaltending makes.
The San Jose Sharks have started this season so far carrying over a lot of last season’s woes, as the team struggles to establish a new identity. An organization that once had offense for days but was held back by league-worst goaltending, the last few years have seen that offensive well dry up.
But at least there’s James Reimer.
Last night’s 2-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes would most certainly have been a bloodbath if the team were still saddled with Martin Jones. The difference between the two is so startling that in retrospect, I’m only more convinced that had the team just kept Reimer in 2016, the next couple of seasons afterward might’ve seen another Cup Final appearance.
At the end of the day, goaltending is what makes or breaks a team. It’s a fundamental that can’t be worked around. If you team doesn’t trust their goaltender, it’s game over.
So the Sharks have that covered, at least.
Still, we’re three games into the season and the Sharks have scored four goals total, with three at even-strength. In that time, they’ve seen nine goals against, the eighth-worst goal differential in the league so far.
Last night, the lone Sharks goal came from Evgeny Svechnikov, who opened scoring late in the first period. Shot pressure ebbed and flowed through the first period, but the Hurricanes controlled the back half of the period, and from there, the remainder of the game.
A shot from Martin Necas eventually got past Reimer and once it was a tied game, all bets were off. As the third period wound down, the Sharks seemed content to hold on through the final five minutes and snag the first point of the season, but the ‘Canes weren’t willing to waddle into an overtime period. Sebastian Aho put the game away and with two minutes remaining, the Sharks couldn’t get another lucky strike.
Before the game, we had three questions about what this match-up would look like. Now that the game is over, we’ve got some answers.
This is what we were looking out for last night:
Does San Jose have an advantage?
Home ice is nice, but the first real home game of the season saw no real edge in the Sharks’ favor. Going into the game, it seemed unlikely, as the offensive juggernaut that is the Hurricanes had bested the team in nearly every measure last season.
One prediction that was right on the money is that San Jose would have limited chances — the first period saw seven shots on goal, five scoring chances and just two high-danger chances, but that was the period where the team notched their only goal.
Carolina controlled the majority of the game, leading in unblocked shots and attempts at all strengths with a 67.33 percent share. When adjusted for score and venue at 5-on-5, that share jumped to 73.63 percent. The opening period was easily the best for San Jose, and that felt largely due to the ‘Canes feeling out the game more than the Sharks having a particularly notable period.
Will Barabanov return?
The Russian winger still wasn’t ready to go last night, sitting as a “healthy” scratch, as it seems like he’s more in day-to-day territory. That left the line-up essentially the same as it was in Europe, with some small changes: Noah Gregor slid onto Nico Sturm’s fourth line in place of former Hurricanes forward Steven Lorentz, who was promoted to the second line. Svechnikov was placed on Sturm’s other side, while Oskar Lindblom was shuffled down to the third line. Jonah Gadjovich and Scott Harrington were healthy scratches.
What adjustments will Quinn make now?
Though the line of Logan Couture, Kevin Labanc and Steven Lorentz was a last-minute change at the end of the game against the Nashville Predators as the team sought out that elusive tying goal, it was the wrong choice against Carolina, producing zero shots and one attempt at 5-on-5.
That line was hard-matched against the top line of Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis. The scoring talent is so lopsided in that match-up it’d be laughable if it weren’t so depressing. Against Nashville, Couture and Labanc were tasked with reining in Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Johansen and Kiefer Sherwood. Couture’s defense has been underrated throughout his career, but that’s because the conversation has been about his clutch scoring ability. If that disappears, there’s a big crater in the Sharks’ top-six that won’t get fixed by a revolving door of depth wingers.
- Noah Gregor returned to the line-up, to see if his speed could come in handy against a fast-paced ‘Canes team. He hands may be made of lead, but he found a new way to use them, dropping the gloves against Jalen Chatfield for his second-ever NHL fight in the middle of the third period. Funny enough, he took Jonah Gadjovich’s spot in the line-up, and must have felt spiritually called to his face-punching duties.
- Matt Benning is quickly becoming one of my favorite off-season additions. He’s quietly being given the toughest assignments, including being matched against Brent Burns several times in last night’s game. He’s a player that helps me see general manager Mike Grier’s vision of the club.
- Speaking of tough assignments, Erik Karlsson is leading time on ice by nearly three minutes, just about hitting 25 minutes against Carolina. In contrast to seeing Burns make fewer mistakes now that he’s taking on fewer duties, it’s even harder to swallow. Still, it’s undeniable that more pucks are going toward the opponent’s net when he’s on the ice. That just can’t be the only time pucks are going to the net.
- James Reimer should never have to pay for another meal or drink in the city of San Jose for as long as he lives here. We owe him that.