Quick Bites: Sharks stand tall over Stars

James Reimer’s 400th NHL game is a 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars

Ahead of last night’s game between the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars, head coach Bob Boughner shook up the forward lines to try something new, based on the performances of select players over the last couple of games. Noah Gregor made it into the top line with Logan Couture and Jonathan Dahlen, while Timo Meier was bumped down to play with Tomas Hertl and Alexander Barabanov. The move has less to do with Meier, since he’s been fantastic, and more to do with the inconsistency of Hertl, and their moments of success while Boughner line-juggled last game.

James Reimer, back from illness, was in the net for his 400th NHL game.

Forward Lane Pederson was a healthy scratch along with defender Nicolas Meloche, and they joined Rudolfs Balcers (injured) in the press box (or … catwalk? The overflow press area is directly above the ice) for the game.

The Stars controlled the puck early, with the Sharks feeling out the first period, as it seems is their new routine. The two teams are relatively evenly matched in speed and ability, and by the middle of the first period, the pace of play began to open up in favor of the Sharks.

San Jose’s passes and zone entries were crisper than last game (hallelujah), but the majority of the play was stuck in the neutral zone, which didn’t benefit the Sharks. On the bright side, that constricting defense from both sides didn’t benefit the Stars either.

Hertl opened scoring with his newly formed second line, which begs the question; is Meier with Hertl and Barabanov the new dream team? Each of them picked up an assist on the goal, and it was overall a successful period for the group.

Dallas attempted to regroup and work their way around the Sharks’ defense, but a combination of conveniently timed offside call and good stick work from the Sharks stifled the Star’s defense.

Erik Karlsson took a tripping penalty, but the Sharks’ penalty kill was sharp, despite sloppy line changes. The majority of Dallas’ shots came at the beginning and end of the first period, and the shot clock landed far in their favor. The Stars had 14 shots on goal, compared to the Sharks’ 6.

After Hertl’s goal, James Reimer, who was newly revived after being sick for the past week, had to be sharp. The Stars did stage an offensive rush in the last five minutes, which forced an (accidental, if you ask me) puck over glass for Jasper Weatherby. Marc-Edouard Vlasic tried to yell to the referees from the bench and Weatherby and Hertl both tried to talk to the Sharks’ way out of it, but alas – after going up one, San Jose ended the first period with nearly two minutes left on the penalty clock.

The penalty kill remained strong to counter the Stars’ early push in the second period, and once at full-strength, the Sharks slowed the pace of play to fit their style, and the second evened out to a back-and-forth.

Kevin Labanc was not on the bench to start the second period and it was soon obvious that he wasn’t going to return to the game. Labanc has been struggling recently, and an injury isn’t going to help his quest to return to the second line, where he started the season. It will be, however, a good opportunity for the Sharks to dip into their pool of Barracuda players. The Sharks need speed, and while they have a wealth of young players who are waiting in the wings to prove that they have something the Sharks need. We know how successful so many of the ‘Cuda players were during the COVID outbreak, so maybe Nick Merkley or Scott Reedy will get another glance if Labanc remains questionable.

Weatherby slotted in for Labanc on the Sharks’ power play, and I have to say, I liked him in that position. Weatherby’s been honing his ‘small skills’ (tipping pucks, working behind the net, etc) in practice, and it’s starting to pay off.

Matt Nieto took a holding penalty halfway through the period on a Dallas break, but it was the kind of penalty that’s forgivable, since he cut through the Star’s momentum and clogged a shooting lane to break up the play. Again, the penalty kill was rock solid, with Gregor jumping off the momentum of the special teams. I wasn’t surprised he’d been put on the top line, considering his unwavering energy and effort every shift. As fantastic as the first and second lines were in the second, the fourth line was getting left behind, and hadn’t seen much of the ice.

Erik Karlsson further proved my theory that the last five minutes of every period for the Sharks are always their best when he sent a rocket of a shot careening into the back of the net.

Guess who had the assists on Karlsson’s goal — that’s right, the second line. Meier and Barabanov picked up their second points of the night off the play. The Stars had an unsuccessful ogoaltender interference challenge, which sent the Sharks to a power play for a delay of game minor.

Boughner was line shuffling to make up for Labanc’s absence and counter the Stars’ physicality. Jonah Gadjovich was placed on a line with Logan Couture and Barabanov to absorb some hits.

To begin the third period, San Jose was up 2-0, and Reimer was on his merry way to a shutout. Dallas carried the first five minutes, but the Sharks were able to turn the tide in their favor.

Boughner was still juggling lines, and at one point, he tried Nick Bonino, Gadjovich and Meier together. Just for fun, I guess (and for that aforementioned physicality). Boughner made a point to mention how valuable the physical presence of Gadjovich and Radim Simek was in the postgame media conference, citing their size and ability to throw their bodies around as one of the reasons as to why they were both in against Dallas.

On a rush chance, former Philadelphia Flyers forward Michael Raffl broke Reimer’s shutout bid on a defensive miscue that allowed him to go high blocker. Raffl’s goal incited an avalanche of Dallas chances, with the backcheck breaking down in front of Reimer for the last eight minutes of the game. Gregor brought the puck out on a streaking breakaway and Dahlen lobbed it out for a nifty clear, but the Sharks emerged victorious from the onslaught to win the game, 2-1.

It was a special game for Reimer. Having not played in 11 days because he was feeling under the weather, his 34 saves on 35 shots and .971 save percentage is that much more impressive. At the end of the press conference, Reimer told a funny story about how four Sharks fans were banging on the glass trying to get his attention during a stoppage. He joked about how he normally doesn’t respond to people banging on the glass because they’re usually trying to heckle him or throw him off his game, but he said they were “pretty adamant” about something on the ice. As it turns out, one of his pad straps had come undone. He dedicated part of the win to them, saying, “Part of the win tonight goes to those four fans.”

He also began the story with a cheeky “You’ll enjoy this one” to all of us media, and you know what? He wasn’t wrong. Those fans may have saved the day.

Boughner did not have an update for Labanc’s injury, although he confirmed that it was upper-body, and said he would have further information for media tomorrow. Or, more realistically, the day after that, since the Sharks have an off day on Dec. 12.