It’s easy to feel good on the keys when the San Jose Sharks win.
Last night’s victory snapped a four-game losing streak, punishing the Anaheim Ducks with two goals eight seconds apart in the second period, and two more 25 seconds apart in the third for a final score of 6-1. Goaltender Eetu Makiniemi, in his first career NHL start for San Jose, stopped 23 of 24 shots.
All Anaheim players save for Trevor Zegras failed to solve the rookie goaltender, making for a disappointing bout for a team hoping to build on an overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes the previous game. Zegras’ tenth goal came in the second frame, with assists from Cam Fowler and Dmitry Kulikov.
The Sharks, meanwhile, have been stumbling their way back to home ice, after going 1-3 on the last Atlantic Division road trip and giving up a game in overtime against the Vancouver Canucks earlier this week. The big guns in teal propelled the team back into status quo, as Timo Meier and Erik Karlsson continuing their tear with matching one-goal, one-assist stat lines on the night. Tomas Hertl and Alexander Barabanov each contributed two assists to the final tally.
Scott Harrington scored his first goal of the season — a boon to the recently battered blue line — while Nico Sturm, Nick Bonino and Steven Lorentz were the other goal-scorers. We can’t forget the Sharks’ 14 total blocked shots, which along with Makiniemi’s performance, made for a formidable defense against the #FlyTogether foes.
But the Sharks needed to focus on a few key areas to finally get their groove back:
Bounce-back on special teams
San Jose is in the business of being a special teams-team. Last night, they took the opportunity to balance the budget after a string of games that taxed the penalty kill. By the numbers, the Sharks went 1-for-4 on the power play against Anaheim, giving the 21.8 percent conversion a small boost and continuing a trend of scoring at least one power play goal per game since Dec. 3 against the Ottawa Senators. The penalty kill went perfect, killing 3-for-3.
Bonino stood out as a leader in that success, contributing two blocked shots, while Logan Couture put his body on the line, blocking a power play blast from Cam Fowler. Couture took just one shift after the play. Hopefully, the captain’s sacrifice doesn’t go in vain on the Sharks’ journey back to number one kill in the league. For the moment, they’re sporting an 85.4 percent kill, with just 13 power play goals against through 30 games.
Logan Couture is shaken up after blocking a shot. pic.twitter.com/UQwgINybcB— JD Young (Unofficial) (@MyFryHole) December 10, 2022
Makiniemi making it happen
Makiniemi was very much at the center of good things happening. After only allowing one goal against in his NHL season debut, he became the first goaltender to get a win in his first start for San Jose since the 2016-17 season. That time it was Aaron Dell — who likewise allowed just one goal — and is probably smiling proud in a Barracuda sweater from not too far away. The community surrounded the young Finn in what seems to be the nascence of a NHL career.
At age 23 years, 234 days, Eetu Makiniemi is the youngest goalie in #SJSharks history to win in his first NHL start. Previous was Miikka Kiprusoff (24-164) on April 8, 2001, also at Anaheim. #NHLStats #HockeyTwitter #SJSvsANA— Darin Stephens (@SharksStats) December 10, 2022
Makiniemi was especially great in the third period, holding off 10 shots on goal to keep the scoring margin wide in favor of his team. He finished the night with a .958 save percentage, a great start ... a hopeful start, even.
With usual netminder James Reimer recently injured and still unready for live play, Makiniemi has looked better than the predicted incumbent Kaapo Kahkonen. Makiniemi is just 23 years old with a handful of experience playing on North American ice, be it NHL or AHL. He’s a little wet behind the ears, but with the Sharks’ recent descent into tank-a-thon territory, a call-up in the crease may be a momentary risk worth taking, moving forward. More games like tonight will extend the leash Makiniemi has been given.
Couture Ken and Barbie Barbie
While Barabanov was questionable for the night, he was no worse for wear, hunting down a two-point night for himself. Couture has been steadily chipping in, rocking 18 points in his past 15 games before the game against Anaheim, but couldn’t sniff the score sheet. He did post five shots on goal. It seems his usual dance partner Barabanov was out assisting on goals of other Sharks friends.
Barabanov earned the primary assist on Karlsson’s second period power play blast, which isn’t too out of the ordinary, but also ponied up with the Lorentz-line in the third period — Evgeny Svechnikov assisted and Lorentz scored the goal there. The unusual crowd was partially due to Couture staying out after the blocked shot, but goes to show that Barabanov’s offensive success is simply infectious. With his skating, passing and puck-protection skillset, he can be used in a pinch to shore up the scoring chances down the line-up.
It was a fun experiment, but one made in necessity — and if Couture manages a quick turnaround, it will probably be best-kept strategy to keep Barbie on a scoring line, riding Couture’s wing. Couture and Barabanov sit fourth and fifth in scoring, with 26 and 19 points, respectively. Argument made.
- Sharks defender Jaycob Megna played his brother, Jayson for the first time in a NHL contest. Jayson, the older brother, was recently claimed by the Ducks after being placed on waivers last week by the Colorado Avalanche. The brothers’ family was in attendance at Honda Center.
- The Ducks looked much more formidable the last time they played the Sharks, pulling off the shootout win. They’ve gone cold, even icier than struggling San Jose. But you see what general manager Pat Verbeek was going for: the young talent in Zegras, Mason McTavish and Jake Sanderson, paired with skilled veterans in Adam Henrique, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Strome and John Klingberg. Three or four years ago, such a cadre would be at the top of the Pacific Division. At the moment, the Ducks looks like the Sharks’ biggest competition for the 2023 first-overall pick.