I don’t know about you, but I’m still not over the long-awaited (but much anticipated) first NHL win for rookie goaltender Zach Sawchenko against the Los Angeles Kings. And if you’re thinking, wait, didn’t the San Jose Sharks just play the Kings? Well, they did, but the pair will be facing off in their second of a home-and-home series, this time in San Jose.
It won’t be an easy rematch for the Sharks, even with the return of defender Erik Karlsson. Despite having one more win under their belt to help boost the Sharks’ confidence, the Kings are still a formidable opponent, sitting second in the Pacific Division and a shoo-in for the playoffs.
While Karlsson has returned to the line-up, and morning practice saw all four Sharks goaltenders on the ice (which leads me to believe that Adin Hill and James Reimer may be close-ish to returning), not much else has changed with injuries to either team since last night.
Winger Ryan Dzingel was placed on waivers, and it’s likely that he’ll clear, which will make room for some of the other forwards who have been circling the line-up lately, like Jonathan Dahlen (who is also fresh from injury), or potential call-ups, like Lane Pederson, John Leonard or Jasper Weatherby. Ryan Merkley was re-assigned to the San Jose Barracuda, making way for a possible Radim Simek sighting.
Is it a Kat Pitré preview if we don’t talk about goaltending?
I mentioned that all four Sharks netminders were on the ice for morning skate on Friday, and head coach Bob Boughner mentioned that Adin Hill was feeling good — so good, in fact, that he may even start in Saturday’s tilt against the Kings.
I’m all for baby goaltenders, and it’s been a joy to see Sawchenko progress at this level with the brief NHL experience he’s been able to snag. The ice time has been hard to come by, and privately, I think the Sharks should have given him more of an opportunity to prove himself capable, but it looks like his time up with the team is drawing to a close.
Unless, of course, newly-acquired Alex Stalock is the one who gets sent down, while James Reimer continues to sit on injured reserve to heal. With the trade deadline coming up, the Sharks have given no real indication of what they plan to do with their goaltending, beyond riding Reimer and Hill, which leaves us with some questions about the future of the Sharks’ crease.
Will Karlsson revitalize the team?
We’ve already seen how much the Sharks have been struggling with goal scoring, maintaining energy and defensive coverage. With the return of Karlsson, the team isn’t just getting a player who can prompt offense, energize and provide excellent defensive acumen — they’re also getting a vital part of the team’s chemistry back.
As a veteran player and leader, Karlsson has a huge presence in the locker room, and his return is also a return to a sense of normalcy. The return of high-impact players, such as Karlsson, should influence the on-ice performance, and we’ve already seen the effect he has on the line-up, jumping up in the forecheck and driving offensive attacks, notching two assists against the Kings on Thursday.
The next hurdle is seeing if the team builds on their success. Sure, they won in overtime last night, and while the forward lines are looking to remain the same, given today’s practice lines, goaltending and defense might shift a bit. It would be nice for the Sharks to be able to shut a game down in regulation now.
Everyone’s least favorite words: the trade deadline
The trade deadline will hit us on March 21. Sometimes a trade can be the best thing to happen to a player in the long term, but, equally, it can be a devastating blow, especially for those with families. Regardless of circumstance, these next few weeks are bound to be steeped in anxiety and stress for NHL players while their names are thrown around in trade rumors and online speculation. Defender Jacob Middleton was surprised (and somewhat flattered) to hear his name in trade rumors, but others – not so much.
It’s a tough line to walk. On one hand, playing well down the stretch (even when a team is out of the playoffs) can be a good thing, because it can endear a team to keeping a player if they’re maybe on the fence. On the other hand, it can increase a player’s trade value and the likelihood of being traded. And, for fringe players, is it better to stay with the devil you know (and the role you know you have to play in) or is it better to be traded to another team and have the potential to fit into their system, or find yourself demoted to the AHL if they don’t have a place for you?
The weeks leading up to the trade deadline aren’t easy, mentally or emotionally, is all I’m saying, and while there’s so much behind the scenes within management when it comes to evaluating trades, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that latent stress made its way on the ice in the form of miscommunication, sloppy play and a disjointed forecheck and backcheck.
Bold prediction: The Sharks are buoyed by the return of Karlsson and finally win one in regulation.