The New York Islanders’ season has been a struggle from the start, but as of late, the San Jose Sharks haven’t looked much better. Prior to their extended NHL All-Star break, the Sharks were already on a spiral of losses, which continued after their return to the ice, totaling seven games without a win.
The playoffs are looking like a pipe dream, so the focus is shifting to evaluating where the Sharks are ahead of the looming trade deadline and the end of the season. Which players have proved themselves worthy of contract extensions? Which may be on the trade block? And which prospects and/or younger players will be dropped to the AHL/brought up to the NHL/making their professional debuts next season? There’s a lot to think about when it comes to critiquing the team’s play (respectfully, of course, because at the end of the day, these players are people who are doing their best).
James Reimer was in net (again), backed up by Zach Sawchenko, Ilya Sorokin was on the other end of the ice, and new-addition Ryan Dzingel was playing in his 400th NHL game, although his accomplishment was outshone by Zdeno Chara, who set the all-time games played by a defenseman record by appearing in his 1,652nd regular season game.
The first five minutes were … okay. Matt Nieto took a hooking call on Chara (to celebrate his accomplishment, I’m sure), but the Sharks’ penalty kill, which is ranked fourth in the NHL, reigned supreme this game.
If there’s one positive to take away, it’s that the special teams have absolutely loved the revamp this year. Both the penalty kill and power play were worthy of gold stars in this game. Jacob Middleton took another penalty around the halfway mark, and for most of the first, it was a back-and-forth, bog-standard game.
Until it hit the last five minutes, of course.
The Islanders scored first, from Brock Nelson who deflected it high on Reimer. Jonathan Dahlen, who has been having a crisis of confidence as of late and was scratched last game, was out of position, and there were no Sharks skaters covering the right defensive side. A lapse in defensive coverage equals an Islanders goal, although the elation for the Isles didn’t last long.
Just a minute later, on what was the first of many successful power plays, Alexander Barabanov (who has proven himself to be fantastic this season) tied the game, following a beautiful faceoff win from Tomas Hertl.
Barabanov ties it on the power play pic.twitter.com/K35rE3zrAw— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) February 25, 2022
Then two minutes later, Jasper Weatherby, upon return from his brief stint with the Barracuda, deflected the puck into the net for a 2-1 lead. The standout play from Weatherby demonstrated that he’s picking up what the coaching staff has been putting down. After blocking a shot, he stayed in the defensive zone, shooting high and quick through the traffic Jeffrey Viel and Dzingel created. Weatherby of the past would have probably passed that puck, but last night, he took the shot instead.
Jasper Weatherby slings it in for the lead pic.twitter.com/0yW8SHewym— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) February 25, 2022
The second period started off fast and physical, belying the frustrations of two teams who have been too used to losing this season.
Viel chose to fight Chara, a decision that netted him a very swift (but gentle) takedown, a pat on the helmet from the legendary defender and a five-minute fighting major — and, of course, a good story he can tell over beers.
The fight galvanized both teams, and most of the second period, like the first, was engaged in back-and-forth, intense play with close chances for both sides. In the final ten minutes, Zach Parise scored his 400th NHL goal on a one-timer to equalize the score at two.
As with most Sharks games, it seemed that all the fun stuff happens in the final five minutes of each period. J.G. Pageau and Matt Nieto tussled (Nieto’s first of his career), and while Nieto earned himself five for fighting, Pageau was given an extra two for roughing, sending the Sharks back on the power play.
Logan Couture made use of the advantage with a power play goal to retake the lead, but unfortunately, it didn’t last long.
Less than 30 seconds later, Adam Pelech scored off the glove of Reimer to tie it at three. Mario Ferraro had gotten stuck in the neutral zone and Andrew Cogliano over-committed to Matt Barzal, which allowed a slot to open up for Pelech.
It was also around this time that Sharks’ PR announced that Nicolas Meloche, who only had played 4:33 of the first period, would not return to the game, meaning San Jose was operating on a five-man defense rotation to start the third.
The third period was fast and physical. An early penalty by Couture lead to a nearly dangerous Islanders’ power play, but was side-stepped by Reimer being utterly fantastic, and the rest of the period stayed locked at three, with both teams keeping pace. It was obvious that the Sharks and Islanders were on pretty even footing when it comes to playing ability.
Unsurprisingly, this game went to overtime, for the second straight time for the Sharks, although the Sharks emerged unscathed, still tied at three, largely because of Reimer and his posts, because the Islanders dominated the extra time.
Because bonus hockey wasn’t enough, the game went to a shootout. For the Islanders, Anthony Beauvillier, Matt Barzal, and Brock Nelson all didn’t score, but Hertl and Couture did for the Sharks, effectively ending their seven-game losing streak.
The joy and elation for the Sharks was palpable, and it hopefully bodes well, as the team has a busy two weeks ahead of them. Now that the playoffs are realistically out of question, it takes off some of the pressure, as players figure out what they need to do to impress for the remainder of the season.