Ok, let’s not kid ourselves.
The San Jose Sharks players probably don’t read or see any team-related news, but head coach David Quinn might have mentioned something to them ahead of Sunday’s afternoon affair against the hosting Philadelphia Flyers.
The Sharks handed the Flyers their first goal-less game, a 3-0 win on the second day of back-to-backs for both teams, with goaltender James Reimer at the helm. What was a probably a deflating first home-loss for Philly, who had gone 4-1 to start the season, was rejoiced not only as the Sharks’ first shutout-win, but also the first time this season in which the team actually outshot the opponent in the second stanza.
The first period was fairly standard for two teams on the tail-end of a back-to-back, with quality chances being far and few between. Reimer and Flyers back-up Felix Sandstrom easily managed the light workload out the gate making seven and nine stops, respectively. No penalties were given, but physicality was on high, with 25 hits racked up between both teams in the first period.
Flyers power forward James van Riemsdyk left in the first and did not return after blocking a shot with his hand. Philadelphia was already dealing with a host of injury troubles, with notables Sean Couturier, Owen Tippett and Rasmus Ristolainen already absent, and Ryan Ellis rumored to be out for good.
You can say the Sharks finally smelt the blood in the water when they took advantage of an overturned Flyers goal in the second period before scoring themselves once, and then twice — the dagger, with about nine minutes between goals. Erik Karlsson got his third goal of the season, with assists from Tomas Hertl and Alexander Barabanov, while Steven Lorentz posted his first of the season tipping in a Jaycob Megna shot, and Matt Nieto in on it for the secondary assist.
Reimer saved his best hockey for the third period, holding off Philly’s busiest period and sealing the deal for the shutout. Nico Sturm secured the empty-netter with Sandstrom pulled in the waning minutes of the game for his third of the season. San Jose’s penalty kill dominance continued, going two-for-two on the night.
It’s not all bad, Philly. Your baseball team is going to the World Series for the first time since 2009!
Here at FTF, we’ll at least claim the small victories this season with the Sharks securing their second win in three games and splitting the four-game road trip. But it wouldn’t have been but for a few key questions addressed in the preview of this game.
Let’s start with the biggest one:
Did the Sharks stop the second period stumble?
“Do you one better,” said the Sharks.
In fact, the second period was San Jose’s best, outshooting the Flyers 12-5, and scoring goals on two. It appeared as if it would be the same nightmare all over again when forward Joel Farabee seemingly scored off the rush during a Flyers power play seven minutes into the middle frame. But the Sharks’ bench did a great job on the monitors by correctly challenging the play for being offside. Two minutes later, Karlsson scored and the Sharks continued to dominate the second by out-chancing the Flyers not only by quantity, but quality.
In the second period, on 12 shots on goal (SOG), the Sharks shot at an average distance of 32 feet from the net, with three chances right in front of the net; the Flyers’ 5 SOG averaged a distance of 47 feet with just one Scott Laughton outlying bid in the net-front area. The offensive zone is 75 feet in length, to illustrate the point. It’s nerdy stuff, but it shows the disparity between both teams’ chances in what has been San Jose’s most-blighted period.
Hertl did not score, but got on-board with the assist on Karlsson’s goal. After locking down a huge extension with the team earlier this year, we’re still waiting to see his game take off nine games into the 2022-23 season. He has posted a goal and two assists so far.
Timo Meier, on the other hand, did not get on the board against the Flyers and has yet to find the net this season. He did put five shots on net, a similar figure to what we’ve seen from him through his previous seven contests. He may be the biggest star in the NHL still yet to score this season.
He did miss a game earlier this month, and it looks like he might still be dealing with the injury that caused it. He’s tallied two assists so far, after last season was his career-best, scoring 35 goals and 76 points in 2021-22.
With Barabanov back from a training camp injury, the top-line has skated together for just a handful of games, dating back to Oct. 18 against the New York Islanders, so it may take more time for the groove to come back, along with the production of Hertl and Meier.
Whereas the Flyers platooned their goaltending for the back-to-back stretch with the bonafide-starter in Carter Hart first, then true-back up in Sandstrom, the Sharks enjoyed the benefits of a 1A/1B situation with a fresh Reimer stopping all 30 shots against the Flyers — that coming after Kaapo Kahkonen’s 34-save performance against the New Jersey Devils the previous day.
And as opposed to Philadelphia’s lack-luster second period chances, they had a few bids that would have solved Reimer if not for his stellar goaltending in the third. He was peppered for the final 20 minutes facing 16 shots, notably stuffing two consecutive chances by the Flyers power play during Mario Ferraro’s delay-of-game penalty.
In what was likely Philadelphia’s chance to get back into the game about halfway through the third, Travis Sanheim found Morgan Frost in the slot for a shot-pass redirection that got Reimer down to make the save. Then, Farabee tried to rebound the loose puck which Reimer had to stretch his left leg to stop before the penalty time expired.
Reimer now has two wins under his belt, but Kahkonen has also made his case at times. Especially in games like this, the Sharks should continue to be able to turn to goaltending consistency with both netminders sharing the load of 82 games.
- I know it’s an injury-adjusted line-up, but I do like the line mixology tonight. The second line of Noah Gregor, Logan Couture and Luke Kunin did not score, but I thought they were checking well — especially against the Flyers’ most-dangerous offensive options. I think what we are learning about Quinn is that you only play if you play in the system. Gregor was back in tonight; Labanc has been back for a string of games after being scratched, and this game made it seem like they are understanding Quinn’s message.
- Speaking of Labanc, I thought his line with Nico Sturm and Evgeny Svechnikov worked hard. They have some good chemistry. Labanc wants to score, and as long as he does score, it’s hard to take him out of the line-up. Svechnikov is one of Quinn’s system guys, and that’s why he’s been consistently in the line-up. Sturm is such a great off-season acquisition. Three years of him sounds good. He’s one of the hardest-working Sharks and he was rewarded tonight with the ENG.
- Nick Bonino did not play and is suffering from an upper-body injury sustained against the Devils.
- Oskar Lindblom made his return to Wells Fargo Center to play against his former team, the Flyers, after winning his battle against Ewing’s sarcoma and making a return to hockey during the 2020-21 season. Lindblom, the recipient of the 2021 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, was previously bought out by Philadelphia before signing with the Sharks ahead of this season. A video tribute for him was shown in Wells Fargo Center during the game.