Remember the 14-goal, chaos-personified game that came out of the last time the San Jose Sharks and Arizona Coyotes met? OK, great, now forget everything you remembered, because this game was distinctly not that.
You might have been fooled by the opening 20 seconds, where on the very first shift and the very first shot of the game, Nick Bonino, on a pass from Andrew Cogliano and Noah Gregor opened scoring with a nifty behind-the-net play to open space up top.
Settle in folks, because that was where the excitement stopped until about the final six minutes of the entire game.
In the first ten minutes of the first period — fueled no doubt by the opening shift — the Sharks were looking pretty good. They were setting up strong chances (high-quality, high slot) in front of Coyotes netminder Karell Vejmelka, but Arizona was equally strong in their ability to bring it out of their defensive zone. Had San Jose been able to settle down and cycle through their lines and system, this could have been a barn-burner.
Nearing the halfway point in the first, the Sharks drew the first power play of the game. Not only was it a hardly penalized game, but neither team’s special teams were anything special. In fact, the first power play seemed to come at the expense of the Sharks’ own momentum, as had their penalty kill, which hit the ice just a few minutes later.
Both teams were shooting on net every once in a while, but as the game wore on, the quality of puck management and communication seemed to diminish. There was a significant amount of back and forth play, but that was mostly because both teams were relying heavily on dump-ins to break the puck out, rather than dictate any solid forecheck.
Individually, the Sharks looked good. If this was about singular player performances, I would say that they even looked great. But the constant turnovers and lackluster forecheck spoke of a different story for the team as a cohesive unit.
Not to be downer, but the second period was kind of boring hockey. Not totally boring, because there was some tussling between Jacob Middleton and Nick Ritchie and Reimer made a few huge saves (most memorably on a break by Alex Galchenyuk), but the majority of the period was played in neutral zone, and that’s not very exciting to watch.
The Sharks drew a power play after a dangerous cross-check from behind sent Alexander Barabanov scarily headfirst into the boards. He was thankfully OK, but the power play wasn’t. They were stuck cycling the puck over and over, and despite the zone time, they weren’t getting puck through to any dangerous areas.
A fumbled puck led to Phil Kessel and Lawson Crouse getting in around the Sharks’ net, and Kessel had an easy tap-in to tie the game with two minutes remaining in the second. There was almost a challenge for the play being offside, and then there wasn’t (it was very much onside) and that was the end of that for the second.
The third period really looked like the game was headed to overtime, if only because neither team was able to get a sniff at an offensive rush throughout the first ten minutes.
Jonathan Dahlen took a puck high on a redirect in close range and immediately sprinted off the ice and down the tunnel — he didn’t return to the game, although with puck-to-the-face hits (especially if stitches or dental work is needed) players usually don’t. Hopefully Dahlen still has all of his front teeth, unlike Mario Ferraro, who was the last Sharks player to take a puck to the mouth. Another close-call on the injury front: Bonino hit a post after he toe-picked on a defensive play, but he was OK.
By the time the final eight minutes rolled around, San Jose was doing a better job of shooting the puck on a quick release, and managing offensive zone passing. Up until that point, the forecheck and backcheck had been pedestrian, but the Sharks livened up in the last few minutes. There was a too many men bench minor called on San Jose, and Reimer came up with some big saves on the kill.
Playing back on their heels came around to haunt the Sharks, when in the last five minutes, Crouse, parked in front of the net, heeled the puck in on a funky little bounce on the power play to take the lead. Less than 40 seconds later, the puck went the other way and Timo Meier finally connected with Barabanov and Tomas Hertl, on the short-side and top-corner.
And then, Noah Gregor (of all people) scored again, on a beautiful backhand wrap-around to retake the 3-2 lead.
Gregor goes for the lead pic.twitter.com/IrplT1Z2w1— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) March 21, 2022
In the final 50 seconds, Rudolfs Balcers scored on the empty net to secure the 4-2 win.
So this may not have been the most scintillating of games. San Jose had more turnovers than is advisable and had they not been playing the 30th ranked team in the NHL, it might have been a bigger problem than it was, especially with James Reimer back in net for an excellent repeat performance.
The main message from this game is to celebrate the small wins — Reimer’s great night, Gregor’s goal and Bonino’s opening shift — and to work to overcome passing and puck management issues in the next game. And never count a team out just because they kinda-sorta-maybe suck this year.