Quick Bites: Hill steps up in statement win over Flames

The Sharks were outplayed, but thanks to goaltending and a couple of big plays, they earned a regulation win over their division rivals in Calgary.

Last night was the beginning of a five-game road trip for the San Jose Sharks, and they didn't come out looking all that good in Alberta. However, they managed to pull off a 4-1 win, in what became the first big game for goaltender Adin Hill with San Jose.

The Sharks’ opponent, the Calgary Flames, also had three days rest, and were playing their last of a five-game homestand. They were coming off of a huge 6-0 victory over the New York Rangers, and riding a 10-game point streak, which the Sharks ultimately snapped.

The first period didn’t turn the tide for either team. It was slow-paced and low action, and without many scoring chances on either side, though the Flames led in shots, 8-4. It’s not that the first period was bad for the Sharks, as they honestly were very disciplined in the defensive zone. It’s just that they really did nothing in the offensive zone to help get the team going and put pressure on Jacob Markstrom.

One player who stood out to me in the first period, and the whole game in fact, was Sharks forward Nick Merkley. He was high-energy from the get-go, using his speed to draw a holding penalty on a good scoring chance early in the first period. I’d say he was the best player of the period, and is making the case to eventually take him out of the line up harder and harder to justify.

The second period started much better for the Sharks, as just 47 seconds in, Brent Burns sent an amazing stretch pass down the ice to Alexander Barabanov, who buried it. Such a beautiful play, and also gave Adin Hill his first career point on the secondary assist.

Unfortunately, everything went downhill for the Sharks after that goal. Not even a minute later, Milan Lucic and the Flames jammed the puck away at Hill, and although the goal was challenged, the call on the ice stood, and Calgary tied up the game at 1-1.

After that, the Sharks started to get hemmed into their own zone, and were outshot 19-8 in the second period. Apart from the early goal from Barabanov, there wasn’t much offense going on for San Jose, and Adin Hill had to show up big, as the Flames rode the energy of a tying goal.

Hill was scrambling all over, and refused to let anything past him. He made a big save from Oliver Kylington from the point late in the second period, and controlled the rebound to cover it up, something he has struggled with this season. It continued with save after save, he was just determined, and that period alone had to be a huge confidence booster for somebody who has struggled to find his groove coming into this game.

In the third period, Barabanov got blasted by Flames defenseman Nikita Zadorov. Later on the shift, Logan Couture broke the puck into the zone and fired one on net from deep, which deflected off of Zadorov and found its way in. The lesson? Don’t touch Barabanov.

After that goal, it never really seemed like the Flames were going to find their way back into the game. Don’t get me wrong, Hill still continued to play great, but the vibe was that it was going to be a Sharks’ win.

Late in the third period, Hill gave the puck to Brent Burns in the corner, who fired it down towards the empty net and missed, but Tomas Hertl ended up winning the footrace with the Flames defender and spun around to plop it into the empty cage and put the Sharks up 3-1.

Jonathan Dahlen also buried another empty-netter, to get the Sharks’ final goal of the game.

The player of the game was Hill, no debate. He saved 37 of 38 shots on goal, good for a .974 save percentage, and whopping 2.58 goals saved above expected. This is huge for the Sharks going forward, as in the modern-day NHL, it’s ideal to be able to run a goaltending tandem. James Reimer has been playing great, but the team’s been longing for a breakout game from Hill, and he got it last night.

Another player who stepped up last night was Jaycob Megna. Man, it is going to be hard to take this guy out of the line up when everyone is healthy, but that raises the question: should they? He had one hit, one blocked shot and was second on the team in expected goals percentage with 63.34 percent through 15:19 minutes. He looked very comfortable and kept shots to the outside as best as possible. He was the best defender on the Sharks last night, in my opinion.

Megna’s defensive partner, Ryan Merkley, also had himself a solid contest, and was the best Sharks skater in expected goals percentage, with 67.17. He didn’t stand out as much as Megna because he had a far smaller offensive night, but much, much better defensive outing, with just 0.29 expected goals against (xGA). That third pairing has been better than what the team put on the ice when healthy.

Santeri Hatakka had his worst game as a Shark thus far. His pairing with Nicholas Meloche has been pretty good so far through the season, but they struggled terribly in the defensive zone tonight. He put up a team-worst 1.39 xGA, and also had a really rough giveaway that led to a scoring chance for the Flames.

“It’s a lot of fun getting into the room after games, I’ll tell you that,” Couture said in the post-game. The Sharks’ energy is high right now, and that’s huge for the team as they still have four games to go in this road trip. It’ll continue with their next game, as they go up against the Winnipeg Jets for the third time this season on Thursday.