The good news? They absolutely did, coming out in the first period with a distinct sort of energy that was absent last game, perhaps indicating that the last game was a turning point for the team.
The bad news? The Ducks had better puck management and control throughout the first period, and the consistent neutral zone turnovers made it difficult for San Jose to stage breakouts. That didn’t mean the Sharks weren’t putting up a fight, however. Both teams traded chances, and Nick Bonino and Brent Burns were noticeable throughout the game. In fact, the only ones really making a splash (aside from Jonah Gadjovich and Zach Sawchenko) were the veterans.
It’s no secret that head coach Bob Boughner and the rest of the coaching staff want more from their top-line and veteran players. It’s been weeks of messages of increasing self-confidence and sticking to their identity. Finally, it seemed to have paid off, when Logan Couture opened the scoring with seven minutes left in the first period.
Couture went five-hole, easy-peasy on Anthony Stolarz, and with Santeri Hatakka on the ice tallying an assist in his first game back with the big club, the coaching staff had to be pleased with this opening.
The Sharks needed an early spark, and the Captain provides pic.twitter.com/ePFIQqyHce— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) March 7, 2022
And then, they were promptly displeased, because the penalty parade began. In total, there were six penalties in the first period. Both teams’ special teams have been extremely successful as of late, so one would think that somebody would score on the power play.
You would be wrong, because not a single power play goal was to be had all game by either side.
Couture scored the lone goal of the first period, but don’t worry; the scoring heated up in the second period. Like, literally within two minutes of the second period. A missed tripping call against Couture and a bad turnover in transition led to a dangerous 3-on-2 for the Sharks. Adam Henrique banked the puck in off a rebound which bounced off of Burns, and there wasn’t much that Sawchenko could do about it.
The score was tied, but not for long, when Marc-Edouard Vlasic (of all people) launched the puck from a pass by Nicolas Meloche from the right point. The puck deflected off of Kevin Shattenkirk and in, putting the Sharks once again up by one, now 2-1.
GOAL— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) March 7, 2022
Vlasic fires a shot off the defenseman and into the net pic.twitter.com/pwaluSbdTH
If you noticed a theme within the scoring, then I did too. Young defenseman, plus older veteran tired of being told they aren’t worth their contract equals goals. The magic equation.
All jokes aside, it bodes well for the Sharks. While the team has a ton of young, upstart forwards in their organization, defensive depth has been a question mark. While Hatakka and Meloche are still adjusting to the pace of the NHL and might make a few more mistakes than their elder counterparts, their offensive sense is absolutely paramount to the Sharks’ success. And yes, while veterans scoring is necessary, it’s even more important during a long, losing season for the veterans to set an example for the younger players, by keeping up morale and showing that the team isn’t giving up on the ice.
The second period was wide open, with energetic back-and-forth play for both sides. There were more power play opportunities (nothing happened), Rudolfs Balcers was looking more confident and settled in his second game back after injury, and right in the final 20 seconds of the period, the Ducks tied it at two.
The goal came during a mad scramble in front of Sawchenko. Henrique was able to get inside possession, and a late line change made sure that Jacob Middleton and Burns were tired, and no one was able to cover Sonny Milano enough that he wasn’t able to bank it in.
The third period showed more cracks in the Sharks’ exterior than the first or second. At this point, it was clear that there wasn’t one line that was performing consistently. Instead, offensive energy came in bursts, rather than a constant sense of pressure and urgency.
After Balcers was cross-checked at a little less than the halfway mark, Middleton almost snagged a shorthanded goal, but it was called back for being offside. It was difficult to tell if the called back goal took the wind out of the Sharks’ sails or if it was just fatigue, but neither team was able to break the tie by the time regulation ran out.
Overtime was, dare I say … short. Boughner put his top three out — Couture, Burns and Timo Meier — but Rickard Rakell scored 14 seconds in. Another loss, this time in overtime, hurts a little bit, but with the team firmly outside the playoffs, it was less about winning and more showing that their blowout loss was a one-off.
Which, they did. Rolling the veterans and young defensemen, scoring fast, early goals and pushing a game into overtime, they’re all signs that the Sharks aren’t giving up. Sure, the four under-utilized power plays sting, and the six penalties showcase undisciplined play that could have been worse, but the key is that they weren’t.
The Sharks looked miles better than they did against the Predators, and that’s all that matters.