Quick Bites: Sharks snap slump against Wild

The Sharks will now travel to St. Louis to take on the Blues on Thursday for the final game of the road trip.

Coming off of two straight losses, it was clear that the San Jose Sharks were going to need to set the tempo early and win this next game if they wanted to stay in the Pacific race for the time being. That’s exactly what they did last night, taking down the Minnesota Wild 4-1, at Xcel Energy Center.

Minnesota was coming off of a three-day break after winning 4-2 against the Seattle Kraken on Saturday. Their record is now 10-5-0 on the season after last night’s loss.

The first period was tilted in the Sharks’ favor. Logan Couture sett up Mario Ferraro for an easy cross-crease goal, and then Timo Meier recovered and buried a rebound off a point shot from Marc-Edouard Vlasic. This was the one period where the Sharks outplayed Minnesota, as they came out strong with two goals while also allowing virtually nothing in the defensive end.

A player who stood out to me in the first period was Timo Meier. On the first goal, he drew two Wild skaters over to him on the zone entry, got the puck to Couture, who then set up Ferraro for the cross-crease goal mentioned earlier. On the second goal, he was the skater who set up the whole play, getting the puck back to the point and allowing Vlasic to take the shot for the rebound, which Meier then recovered and scored. Two points in the opening 20 minutes is not an easy feat, but Meier made it look really simple.

The second period was where things started to fall off for the Sharks. The period started with a power play carrying over from the previous period. On the man-advantage, the puck was dumped into the zone, and Meier played very loosely behind the net trying to recover the puck. When he didn’t, Wild forward Joel Eriksson Ek was able to get a good look in front of the net, which was luckily poked away by goaltender James Reimer.

Just a couple of minutes later though, Eriksson Ek dangled around Tomas Hertl, and got Vlasic to relieve the pressure a little bit before firing it low on Reimer to get the Wild on the board. He was one of Minnesota’s top performers, if not the best.

Erik Karlsson showed off his first big offensive play since returning from COVID Protocol, with an absolute bomb that went over Cam Talbot’s left shoulder to put the Sharks up by two.

There wasn’t much going on for either side in the third period until Hertl put the dagger in the game. Great puck movement and cycling by the Sharks in the offensive zone somehow left Hertl unmarked and he easily put it into the empty cage.

The Sharks had a little scare with Mario Ferraro, who blocked a shot with his hand late in the third period, but he returned to the bench within the dying minutes, so no need to be too alarmed there.

One thing I really liked to see was the selflessness from Andrew Cogliano late in the game. The team was already up by three goals with just two minutes remaining and he could’ve easily scored the empty-net goal for himself, but he went looking for Nick Bonino, who has yet to score through 14 games this season, multiple times. They didn’t end up connecting, but that’s the type of stuff you love to see and it’s a great sign of a healthy locker-room environment.

This game showed the potential of a brewing rivalry, perhaps fed by seeing Minnesota eight times last season, as there was a lot of physicality and fights. Matt Dumba was laying the body all over, including a reverse hit on Alexander Barabanov which sent the young Russian forward to the ice. We also saw two fights, with Jake Middleton and Jordan Greenway going at it in the first period, and Marcus Foligno and Jonah Gadjovich in the second period.

This game definitely wasn’t an offensive bright spot for either team in terms of quality scoring looks. The Sharks accumulated just 0.91 expected goals for (xGF), and the Wild just 1.69. However, San Jose didn’t mind too much as long as the puck was going to the back of the net.

James Reimer has continued to strengthen his case for the starting role in San Jose, saving 26 of 27 shots, for a .963 save percentage (SV%) and 0.69 goals saved above expected (GSAx). His counterpart on the Wild, Cam Talbot, struggled heavily, saving just 17 of 21 shots on goal, posting an .810 SV% and -2.76 GSAx.

Sharks head coach Bob Boughner was very impressed with Vlasic’s performance, saying “I thought that was his best game of the year.” Prior to the game, Boughner said the decision to scratch Radim Simek over Vlasic could’ve gone either way, so the pressure was on for Vlasic to perform.

It’ll be interesting to see what Boughner does to the line up in preparation for the game against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday. The team got the win, but once again, they didn’t particularly outplay the Wild in significant ways, particularly ones that would make winning sustainable.

For now, the Sharks will take their win with grace, improving to 8-6-1 on the season.