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Quick Bites: Sharks can’t answer Senators’ power play surge

The return of Thomas Chabot, Sharks’ discipline cited as factors.

Radim Simek #51 of the San Jose Sharks holds Alex DeBrincat #12 of the Ottawa Senators during the second period at Canadian Tire Centre on December 03, 2022 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Simek was called for a two-minute holding penalty on the play. Photo by Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

The San Jose Sharks fell to the Ottawa Senators last night by a score of 5-2, including three power play goals in each period of play from the Sens. The defeat marks the second loss in a row during the Sharks’ current road trip through the Atlantic division, of which they are now 1-2. It’s a quick turnaround for the guys in teal, as they’ll face the Buffalo Sabres today to close out the trip.

Ottawa forwards Tim Stützle and Drake Batherson both posted multi-point games, while old-timer Claude Giroux showed flashes of his former self, holding up two goals and an assist on the night. Goaltender Anton Forsberg made good on 35 of 37 saves, earning himself the second star of the game.

It was a devastating loss piled on top of what’s been a disappointing pair of games, as the usually dependable penalty kill fell asleep for three goals against. The Sharks’ kill still sits head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league, but fell from a 91.6 penalty kill percentage (PK%) to 88.2. The Sharks earned four power plays themselves, but converted just one into a goal. A more typical night from the special teams or maybe just a little old puck luck could have spelt a different outcome, one can’t help but think.

The Sens and Sharks have now split wins. Last time, the Sharks relied on goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen to make big saves. It couldn’t be done again, though the parameters have shifted a bit since their last meeting, with Norris-caliber Thomas Chabot finally drawing into the Senators’ line-up after missing games due to injury, while James Reimer was out for the Sharks. Chabot, along with Brady Tkachuk and Stützle pounded home the three power play goals.

Good for you, bro.

Like Wednesday’s match in Toronto, the Sharks ended up short in a game that could have easily gone the other way for a win. So what went wrong?

Capitalizing on Sen’s second night of a back-to-back

It’s hard to argue that that Sharks didn’t put forth the effort in applying pressure against a team who skated hard into overtime the previous night. San Jose put up 37 shots in their second match against Ottawa, compared to their usual 27.07 shot-rate against out-of-conference opponents this season. 12 of the Shark’s shots were of the high-danger variety, which is on-par with their average, per NaturalStatTrick.

San Jose especially poured it on in the third period, trying to undo a two-goal deficit on a 4-on-3 power play opportunity. During that sequence, they spent an unbroken minute-thirty in mostly open ice, putting up six shots and hitting a post. Two of those chances — Timo Meier’s missed post and Logan Couture’s bid 11 feet from the net — had over 60 percent chance to score, according to MoneyPuck.

It gets better. Couture’s chance, in fact, managed to squeak past Forsberg and sat on the goal line before being swept away by Jake Sanderson. Travis Hamonic — another of Ottawa’s penalty killers — meanwhile, defended without his stick, which broke at the onset of the Sharks’ power play. But Forsberg weathered the storm, the penalty expired and Giroux quickly skated up the ice to convert a heads-up Tyler Motte pass into a breakaway goal to put his team up 5-2. Story of the night for all the Sharks’ efforts.

About that Hertl bounce back

Tomas Hertl had a redeeming night, scoring the Sharks’ only two goals. It was an assignment he took care of early, scoring at 7:26 of the game to open the scoring, on a power play goal to boot. Batherson tied the game minutes later, but Hertl quickly reestablished the lead with a second goal and his ninth of the season.

It was a sigh of relief as Hertl endured a spell of guilt following a late game-losing giveaway against the Toronto Maple Leafs just days before. Yet, all Sharks scoring ceased after the first period, as the Sens scored the next four goals unanswered.

Hertl posted seven unblocked shot attempts and a 54.8 percent Corsi-for on the night. He has now tallied 11 points in his past ten games, capturing second in scoring for all Sharks skaters and surpassing Timo Meier with nine goals and 16 assists.

Middling performance from Kahkonen

While Kahkonen has drawn the ire of some fans this season, he’s recently stepped in to man the number one role in net since the Nov. 26 injury of the more established James Reimer. Though it was the hope that Kahkonen would continue a positive trend after earning a shutout against the Montreal Canadiens and getting the day off against the Leafs, he looked outworked on 39 shots against Ottawa last night.

It’s important to note that of his three wins on 11 quality starts this season, his most impressive came in the first match between Ottawa and San Jose. That game, he actually faced a similar amount of shots, but only allowed a single goal, managing a .974 save percentage (SV%). Suffice to say, he couldn’t replicate those numbers last night, allowing five goals for a .872 SV%.

But on his other two wins, he faced just 28 and 25 shots, shutting out the opposition in Montreal and then allowing three in the other, but still managing the win. If you don’t see the connection, you’re actually right on track. It’s been an up, down and when you look at the totals — it’s been an overall average season so far for Kahk, especially considering the earned contract-extension after impressing as a post trade-deadline acquisition last season.

As a rule, power play goals against usually don’t fall on the shoulders of goaltenders, but in this case, pulling out something stellar to deny one of Tkachuk, Stützle or Chabot would have been welcome, not expected. If anything, it could have meant some reprieve from the game-chasing the team has become accustomed to lately. Kahkonen will probably get the day off in Buffalo on the second night of a back-to-back, but it won’t be long before he’s called upon again to start building some semblance of an even-keel that the Sharks desperately need.

Thoughts

  • The Chabot goal, in particular, was fun — especially considering Erik Karlsson was once again cornered by the Hockey Night in Canada media crew ahead of the match about the prospect of him coming back to Ottawa. I’m a big Karlsson trade-denier — and we all know how a one-two punch of offensive defensemen formula worked out in San Jose — but it got me thinking, Chabot-Karlsson could work for Ottawa if the management there wanted it bad enough. More importantly, what would that yield for San Jose? Ottawa definitely showed off some of what they could offer.
  • I love what’s going on at TechCU Arena. The Barracuda core of William Eklund, Thomas Bordeleau, Tristen Robins and Ryan Merkley reminds one of a time when the Sharks’ locker room solidarity was bolstered by Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski. They’ve been given an opportunity to grow together. But I can’t help but think: a lot of what the Sharks need is more skill in the line-up. They have it at the minor league level, though admittedly, it would be an atrocity if it turned out those players were being rushed beyond their time. Still, put it this way: what the Sharks really have is two lines and one power play unit that can score consistently. At the NHL level, when does banging your head into the wall (and not pucks into the net) stop making sense?