The San Jose Sharks handily took care of the Anaheim Ducks in a 4-1 fashion on Saturday night. It was a rare Sharks game that saw some movement in the standings, as San Jose moved into sixth in the Pacific with 66 points, while the Ducks fell to seventh place. Anaheim collected their ninth loss in a row and for the second home-game in a row, the SAP crowd chanted and were granted tacos.
With Logan Couture, Matt Nieto and Jonathan Dahlen out with injuries, the roster wasn’t exactly a winning ticket for coming away by a dominant margin, but win they did, and dominant they were. That being said, a victory would not have been possible without some standout performances from the usual suspects: goaltender James Reimer who stopped 27 of 28 shots; and Timo Meier who played a three-goal game.
But there’s also more to the tale. Due to the aforementioned injuries, the Sharks trotted out four call-ups to round out the bottom-six forward group. John Leonard and Sasha Chmelevski joined Scott Reedy on the third line, while Lane Pederson was recalled from the San Jose Barracuda to center between regular fourth-liners in Jonah Gadjovich and Jeffrey Viel.
Between Leonard, Chmelevski and Reedy on the third line, the trio has played a total of just 31 games in the 2021-22 season. Reedy sports the longest tenure, with 18 games of that combined total. He recently became a fourth-line fixture in the line-up since scoring his first NHL goal against the Seattle Kraken back on Feb. 27.
Meanwhile, Pederson was playing in his first game back with the big club since Feb. 20. Pederson was having a relatively unproductive and unsuccessful first half of the season and was waived for reassignment to the Barracuda, with whom he played 11 games. But in his first game back, he seemed refreshed and unencumbered by the ineptitudes from earlier in the season.
More to the point, the Sharks’ young guns stepped into some big shoes in last night’s win and did not shrink in the slightest at that task.
Looking at the stat-sheet, it may not paint the best picture of that. Reedy did collect a secondary assist on the first goal of the game by Marc-Edouard Vlasic, but the others were scoreless.
Still, make no mistake: they made their presence felt. We saw Leonard’s speed and deadly shot. We saw Chmelevski’s penalty-killing potential and Pederson’s improvement as an effective fourth-liner and utilitarian in Bob Boughner’s system.
Like this play from Pederson, separates Fowler from race to puck on forecheck. He owns an intriguing size/speed combo, if his hands/brain catch up to NHL, we could see why #SJSharks sent out a 4th for him pic.twitter.com/nD1kw81XA6— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) March 27, 2022
“Wait, go back — did you say Vlasic scored a goal. He shot the puck and it went in the net?”
Yes, yes that’s right. And you shouldn’t be so surprised. Vlasic has netted 3 goals and 11 assists this season through 58 games and is scoring at a better pace than in his previous two seasons. Factoring in rookie goaltender Lukas Dostal, who was in net for his fifth career NHL game, it’s no surprise that Vlasic has been looking not at all like his 34 years.
On the other end of the spectrum, Vlasic’s 21-year-old defensive partner Ryan Merkley was responsible for the primary assist on Vlasic’s goal. Between Mario Ferarro’s injury and Jacob Middleton onto greener pastures with the Minnesota Wild, the pressure on Merkley to stay in the line-up has subsided a bit, and it seems to have given him the space to just play his game.
Between Reedy, Vlasic and Merkley, here is what they came up with on the night:
Despite grabbing the first goal of the game, the Sharks had to survive the onslaught of shots, especially during the first 15 minutes of the game. The Ducks outshot the Sharks 28-24 by the final horn, but some of their best chances came in the first period.
It would have been significant, since Anaheim drew two early penalties and had 10th-best ranked power play good going into the game. San Jose, on the other hand, had lost some of the penalty-killing varnish after losing regular killers in Middleton and Andrew Cogliano at the trade deadline, and dropping to fifth from second-best kill in the league from just a few weeks ago.
But Reimer was there to answer the bell early, with some sterling saves to keep the game scoreless during those kills. That the Sharks were able to keep Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry off the scoresheet are perhaps, in part, testament to Reimer’s vision and poise.
That, and his left-to-right ‘push off’ mechanic. In that respect, he was all as much Optimus Reim part-man, part-machine as fans make him out to be. First, he closed the door on Terry, who blasted the puck from his off-hand position while looking at a yawning net before Reimer got across and redirected the puck — partially with his blocker, partially with the shaft of his stick.
Then, he stopped Zegras’ one-time bid as the puck zipped from behind the net, to Zegras’ stick, and then off of Reimer’s glove. Reimer finished the game with a .964 save percentage and at times looked like the best player of either team on the ice, had it not been for the hat trick performance of Meier.
Meier’s first two goals were nearly identical, at least in location: a pivot followed by a quick shot from the right-side circle. This is fast becoming one of Meier’s go-to weapons — much like Alex Ovechkin’s one-timer from the left side — as he continues his path to becoming one of the most tremendous players in the game.
On the first goal, he received the puck off the wall and did a kind of half-mohawk before shooting in stride to catch Dostal off-guard. On the second, he went to retrieve a loose puck up-board, stopped, pivoted and walked down the slot for the shot. Different execution, but same result: a goal from a duplicatable chance that is nearly unstoppable.
Meier finished off the game with a beauty of a goal, off of a feed by Tomas Hertl. Along with Alexander Barababov, this trio is becoming quite a force in the Sharks’ top-six.
The game felt much like another installment in The Avengers, as San Jose had so many heroes on the ice doing complimentary jobs to come up with the win. On a wider scale, Nicolas Meloche was defensively-solid again in what has been a solid body of work in his 35 NHL games. In last night’s game, as with the past few games, he’s been paired with Erik Karlsson, playing top-four minutes. He’s provided a bit of defensive-anchoring for Karlsson, like Middleton and Jaycob Megna have done at various points this season. It’s not an eye-popping assignment, but he’s capable of doing what needs to be done now, despite starting the season at the AHL level.
Meloche is a perfect example of what the Sharks have been able to count on this season: the capability of their depth. Meloche is making a case for starting in the NHL next season, which will likely be with the Sharks. If Leonard, Chmelevski and other young depth players continue to play like they did tonight, it may be the same case for them.
With nearly half of the Sharks squad from last night’s game looking for jobs for the 2022-23 season, and injured regulars likely returning, it leaves the Sharks with an abundance of capable options — a good problem to have and possibly a welcomed reward for how hard this team has worked through adversity this season.