Old friends were well-met in a Veteran’s Day match-up between the struggling San Jose Sharks and the Dallas Stars. Ex-coach Pete DeBoer, ex-captain Joe Pavelski and Mason Marchment, son of the late Sharks-great Bryan Marchment were among familiar faces. Then, there was this tweet from not-too-long-ago:
After all, neon-green and teal bleed in the same family of colors, no? All jokes aside, any congeniality shared between the two teams must have evaporated during the spirited affair, which ended with a 5-4 Sharks win.
The top line of Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Tomas Hertl was on full kill-mode, dominating the lion’s share of offensive chances and scoring two goals in the process: Meier’s seventh of the season, to extend his streak to five games, as well as Hertl’s fourth of the season.
Stars captain Jamie Benn stood out, scoring just 4:42 into the game and following up with a second goal later in the first period. It was all the Stars could do to hold off the Sharks’ first period onslaught of offense, which came clicking with 11 shots on goal (SOG), converting Alexander Barabanov’s first of the season on the power play and Evgeny Svechnikov heating back up for his third.
Logan Couture completed a Gordie Howe hat trick, assisting on the Barabanov goal, scoring one of his own in the second period, and uh ... ‘fighting’ Benn in a bout between captains:
Logan Couture vs Jamie Benn— Locked on Sharks (@LockedOnSharks) November 12, 2022
In the year of our lord 2022 pic.twitter.com/vgh2ewguQR
The Stars made a late push, holding off the Sharks for 19 minutes without a shot in the second period, and swinging the offense the other way for most of the rest of the game. Hertl did score early in the third, but the Stars finished with the game’s final two goals, coming from Roope Hintz, who is on a seven-game point-streak, and Captain America himself, who scored his seventh of the season.
Luckily, Sharks goaltender James Reimer weathered the second and third period storm, stopping 25 of 29 shots to spoil the comeback in American Airlines Center. Jake Oettinger struggled on 13 of 18 stops total in his return.
San Jose earned the first regulation win of the season, snapping a five-game skid. Despite the recent struggles, the Sharks have now scored 29 goals in the past eight outings — a huge improvement over the first eight of the season, where the team scored just 15.
It’s good news for a team lately trying to right its wrongs, never mind trying to convince us all that it’s still a Sharks season worth watching. It’s still worth watching.
Can the Sharks turn shots into goals?
The Sharks shot-output stood at the lower-end last night — so the first part of the equation didn’t look great. But we were treated with two Sharks power plays in the first period, where the majority of offense turned out, converting a goal on one and looking dangerous on the other.
Alexander Barabanov gets his first of the year!! pic.twitter.com/MQaP84x0Qk— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) November 12, 2022
The remaining two periods produced just seven shots. Despite this, the Sharks cracked the five-goal threshold for just the second time this season, this time on just 18 shots.
The statistics say it all: the Sharks’ five-goal game outperformed the expected 2.67 (xGF) against Dallas, head and shoulders. What’s more, though the 18 percent shot conversion in the first period is pretty pedestrian by NHL standards, the nearly 50 percent conversion in periods two and three cannot be overstated in efforts to make the shots count. So I’d say overall, San Jose cleaned up in this department.
How reliable is the penalty kill?
The special teams were every bit as interesting as the head-to-head comparison: the Stars’ fourth-ranked power play versus the Sharks’ second-place kill. Inversely, the Stars had a pretty good kill themselves going in, ranked fourth, and the Sharks power play, whose ranking is not worth mentioning, is hot as of late.
One little wrinkle of detail is that San Jose has taken the third-least penalties per 60 in the league, with 3.19 per 60 — likely a factor in enabling the success of a relatively well-preserved kill. Last night’s game was a physical contest, but we saw the skater-advantage just twice for the Sharks and once for the Stars.
As stated, the Sharks went one for two on the power play and killed the only penalty in which they were down a man (there were a few off-setting penalties). So whereas the special-teams advantage lay with the Stars to start the game, in a small sample-size, the Sharks and their signature penalty kill prevailed. No knock on the Stars, who were every bit as dangerous as the 28.6 percent power play indicated.
So now that the extra skater is decently ripping, San Jose’s special teams seem pretty important to winning any games the rest of the season. With the power play, the Sharks worked the puck around more, to find shooting angles other than the one reserved for Erik Karlsson at the top of the formation. But with the kill, what’s the recipe for replication?
It starts with who is being deployed. According to DailyFaceoff, the Sharks’ penalty killers are Luke Kunin, Mario Ferraro, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Matt Nieto, Radim Simek, Matt Benning, Couture and Hertl. But you also see the likes of Jaycob Megna, Nico Sturm and Steven Lorentz over the boards at times, especially when the minutes are tough.
In this game, Megna and Sturm were noticeably present, in addition to the main penalty killers. Megna is a rangy body that can occasionally soak up blocks, while Sturm could be used for important D-zone faceoffs. Furthermore, it makes sense: outside of a few players, the Sharks are a mostly defense-first or two-way skating roster. With 10 skaters possessing decent penalty-killing skill being iced every now and then, it makes for sustainable special-teams success.
Is the Stars’ first line as dominant as they seem?
With Hintz extending his point-streak, Pavelski finding the net and Jason Robertson assisting on both Dallas goals, the Stars’ top line came as advertised — though they started a little late, scoring a back-to-back pair of goals in the third. Had the top line performed like that for the full sixty minutes, maybe they could have crested their 3.62 xGF. All in all, the trio accounted for four points on the night.
San Jose’s top line mirrored the production of their Dallas counterparts, getting on board for five total points between Labanc, Meier and Hertl. Speaking of mirroring, Meier and Hertl had nearly identical nights, both tallying a goal and an assist, both scoring 29 seconds into the second and third period, respectively. I haven’t seen such evil twinery in hockey since the Sedins.
- Turnovers played a huge role in last night’s scoring. Both of Benn’s goals sprung from Sharks turnovers, while Meier and Couture scored back-to-back in a bad minute of the Stars mishandling the puck in their own zone in the second period.
- Erik Karlsson did not register a point last night, ending his streak. On the bright side, it’s good to see the offense starting to take off without having to lean on him so much. Barabanov’s power play goal is a perfect example of how the team can surprise opponents as the league begins to prioritize Karlsson as a threat.
- On a quick coaching dig — there was a bit of line-juggling from coach David Quinn. With Svechnikov scoring early, he flipped with Nieto from the fourth line to Couture’s wing. Barabanov briefly stepped in for Labanc after committing a bad turnover, and the usual pairing of Megna and Karlsson reunited after the Ferraro and Karlsson experiment was floated again to start the game. It’s a good sign to see Quinn being rather active, not stringent, in shuffling personnel to address any issues in-game.
- The Sharks again struggled to have the situational awareness to close out the game, giving up two late goals. But with the team’s own layered scoring, it looks like San Jose is slowly improving the recipe for getting two points on the night.