Cuda Corner: Entering the home stretch
It’s been quite the season for the Barracuda, good and bad. What awaits the team in the final 11 games?
To say it’s been a whirlwind season for the San Jose Barracuda would be putting it lightly.
A roster in flux has seen 41 different skaters take the ice. Six goaltenders have started at least one game. There were COVID outbreaks. Then there was the semi-permanent Evander Kane expulsion to the Barracuda that lasted all of five games. And then there was a New Year’s Eve tilt in Stockton, where the team’s head equipment manager served as an emergency back-up goaltender.
All of this, and yet, somehow, the Barracuda remain in the fight for the seventh and final playoff seed in the Western Conference.
The light is quickly fading, yes. As of Monday, the team is 10 points behind the seventh seed Henderson Silver Knights, and one point behind the Tucson Roadrunners for eighth place. Considering the constant roster turnover, which can destroy chemistry, it’s a miracle that the Barracuda are within sniffing distance of the playoff race.
Leading the way, and one of the few players that has been a source of stability, is winger Joachim Blichfeld, who has 21 goals on the year. He’s the 10th player in Barracuda history to pot 20 or more goals in a single season, with the previous two being Alexander True and Dylan Gambrell in the 2018-19 season, scoring 24 and 20 goals, respectively. It’s a bit interesting that Blichfeld hasn’t yet gotten the call to the NHL this season, but after two cups of coffee with the Sharks in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, the organization might be content to let him keep developing his game.
This Barracuda team calls to mind the 2017-18 team. Both iterations used a high number of skaters, many of the new additions being on professional try-out (PTO) agreements, and at least one player on a PTO has performed well enough to become a full-time member on the roster. In 2017-18, it was the high-energy enforcer Emerson Clark who earned a Standard Player Contract (SPC), and this season, it was steady two-way defenseman, Patrick Holway. Even when the defensemen that Holway had been filling in for returned, Holway did not go anywhere, proving to be a dependable part of the line-up. In fact, due to roster shortages against the Colorado Eagles on Saturday, March 26, Holway had to step in as a forward while the team rolled 11 forwards and 7 defensemen.
“He’s got a good skill-set”, Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer said after Saturday’s game. “He could shoot a puck and handle pucks and he was actually pretty good on the wall for us. So you know, it’s just basically fill in a hole that we needed filled.”
That’s been the overarching theme for the Barracuda this entire season: filling holes. In the past week, a lot of holes have popped up. The San Jose Sharks, and even the Barracuda themselves, were busy in the NHL trade market, sending out forward Nick Merkley and goaltender Alexei Melnichuk in exchange for defender Anthony Bitetto and forward Antoine Morand, respectively. At the AHL’s trade/loan deadline, the Barracuda acquired forward Mason Jobst from the Rochester Americans in exchange for veteran defenseman Mark Alt.
Time is running out to make a late push for the playoffs, especially after dropping the first three games of the five-game homestand in regulation, but the Barracuda have been here before. Though Sasha Chmelevski is the only current player who was also on the aforementioned 2017-18 team, that team won eight of their final eleven games to sneak into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.
There is still hope yet for the Barracuda’s playoff hopes. But it may take a miracle, and they’ll need it sooner than later.