After notching a third win in their four-game season series against the Calgary Flames (4-3, W), the San Jose Sharks traveled to Edmonton for their second match-up with the Edmonton Oilers this season. There’s much to improve upon this time around, as the previous game ended with San Jose getting shut out 3-0.
Following morning skate, head coach Bob Boughner took to the mic to discuss the progression of the team, the debut of Kaapo Kahkonen and how young players in the room can continue to make a mark.
Here are the highlights of what he had to say:
On how the team is progressing: I think we’ve been up and down a little but, we went through a phase there where we were missing some pretty important people and we struggled. Without Karlsson and a few of our D-men, Ferraro being hurt, we had some goaltending issues for a while where we couldn’t keep both guys healthy. We’ve gotten healthy, we’re still missing a couple of good pieces in Nieto and Dahlen, but we’re giving a lot of young guys opportunities here down the stretch. We got some pretty good performances from those guys the other night and we’re a team that’s gonna keep battling to the end.
On playing in high-danger games: I think it’s the best thing for them. Being in Calgary the other night where it was a 3-2 hockey game for most of the night, having to defend using some guys out there that had not ever been on the ice in a 5-on-6 situation in the NHL. That was key for those guys, just being able to stick together and win in tough buildings. That’ll be no different tonight. We all know how desperate these teams are to stay in the top three and not fall into that Wild Card spot. We expect a hard game and it’s going to be a good development scenario for the guys playing.
On a game plan: [The Oilers] have some very, very elite skill — game-breaking skill, and we have to make sure we try and take time and space away from these guys and not let it be an easy game for them with free will in the neutral zone. Again, a dangerous power play, want to try and stay out of the box and try to play as disciplined as possible. We just have to stick with what we do. We know what Edmonton’s going to throw at us, we’re just worried about being structured in detail and being a tough team to play against.
On playing the Oilers: I don’t know if I’d call it easier. Maybe from a match-up standpoint, but it’s pretty elite. We’ll see how they play it and what the line match-ups will be. Being on the road, it’s like the other night against Gaudreau’s line, preferably we’d like to have Cooch’s line out there — that’s our shutdown line, our defensive forward, and we couldn’t get that match-up, so that falls in Tommy’s hands. Tommy Hertl has to be the guy to play responsibly against the top line. It’s gonna take more than one line to shut them down, that’s for sure.
On the penalty kill in Calgary: The first one, not very good. It was in the back of our net pretty quickly. I think with Cooch and Cogs as your first two guys off the bench on those kills, you feel good about that. Obviously there’s a reason why Colorado went out and got a guy like Cogliano, he’s an elite penalty killer. Matt Nieto’s hurt right now, also one of our guys. We’ve been a top two or three penalty kill team all year. Other guys like Noah Gregor, Rudy Balcers, guys like that have to step up and play bigger roles and there’s a little bit of a learning curve there. That’s what we’re here for. We’re going to try and get the details sound for some of these young guys and put them in situations that they haven’t been in.
On Gregor: He’s had some up and downs like every young guy in the league. He’s just trying to find what he needs to do on a nightly basis to be effective and consistent. As of late, he’s been one of our better players. His biggest asset is his speed, and sometimes as a young guy, you’re trying to know when to use it, when to slow it down a little bit and take a breath. He’s learned how to sort of use that speed and he’s getting more consistent with it. He’s had all kinds of situations where he’s been in top-six, bottom-six, power play, penalty kill, so he’s getting good experience this year.
On Meier: He’s playing, he feels good. He actually had some good pop this morning, he’s going to play. It was just a scary experience when it happened because nobody knew, but all the tests were negative and he felt pretty good.
On Gadjovich: Gadj has done everything we’ve asked him, he comes as advertised. I knew Gadj from junior, I’ve watched him in the American League, have some success putting some numbers up as well. I think there’s more to his game that we’ve seen now, and you can start seeing signs of that coming as he gets more confidence. He’s a guy who’s miserable to play against, he finishes every hit. I know his teammates love having him in the line-up. He understands that his job is to get out there and create momentum and be structured, do the right things with the puck, be heavy to play against. That’s what he’s provided us. He’s done a real good job of playing that role for us.
On Merkley and Karlsson: I think Karly is a calming effect for Merks. I think he talks a lot to him — Karly is a talker on the ice. As I said the other night, as the game goes on, different situations will come, and I think you saw Burnzie and Karly playing together a lot towards the end of the game. We switched partners a little bit. It’s going to be situational tonight, especially with McDavid and Draisaitl on the same line, we’re going to have to have four defensemen share that. We’re going to make some decisions as we get through the day here and see how the game goes. It’s going to start like that, but things could change quickly as they did in Calgary.
On Kahkonen: He had a good practice yesterday. It was optional, but we had about 10-12 skaters out there. He got lots of shots and I know he was a little fatigued from flying, all the emotion and adrenaline from being traded and everything. I think today he looked good during morning skate, I think he’s excited to play. He’s a guy that’s easy to talk to, perfect English. He’s happy about the situation that he’s in, he knows he’s going to get a great opportunity here, so he’s excited about it. Hopefully we can play hard for him tonight.
On Chmelevski: I think we’ve liked Sasha for a few years now. He went down after training camp, I think he was a little crushed he didn’t get a better opportunity and maybe didn’t have a better camp or the camp that he wanted to have. He has improved over the last couple of years in our system, and I think physically he’s found that extra step he needed that we’ve always told him to work on. He’s a great guy who’s a leader down there. You can tell he has a lot of smarts at this level, and you need that. Playing with a guy like Cooch, you have to be prepared to play against the best players and you have to do the right things with and without the puck. He’s gonna get an opportunity there, and I told all these young guys that they’re going to make mistakes, and that’s okay. It’s about competing and not getting down on yourself when you get back to the bench, you just worry about your next shift.
*Lightly edited for clarity.