Quick Bites: Banged up Sharks stave off bloodbath, fall 1-0 to Rangers

Hill kept the Sharks in the game, but couldn’t work their way past the Rangers’ aggressive defense.

The San Jose Sharks’ matchup against the New York Rangers was a big night. Not only because it was the first time the Sharks had been to Madison Square Garden to see the Rangers in almost two years, but because of a friendly bet. Kevin Labanc, who was born in Brooklyn, NY but was raised in Staten Island was set to lose money if the Sharks completed the sweep of the tri-state area. He said pre-game that he’s “never been more excited to lose money.”

At least he was excited about it, because the sweep never came.

Coming off a three-game win streak, the Sharks had to readjust their roster to account for some bruises. Jonah Gadjovich fell victim to an awful blocked shot against the New York Islanders the previous night and didn’t return to the game, and will most likely be out for a bit. Taking his place in the line-up was Lane Pederson, who joined Jasper Weatherby and Labanc on the fourth line. Recent San Jose Barracuda call-up Nicolas Meloche was paired with Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who is now second in franchise history in all-time games played with 1,104 following last night.

Originally, James Reimer was meant to start in net in the second game is as many nights, but he woke up feeling under the weather; not COVID related, just a little sick, so Adin Hill stepped in. There was another familiar face besides Hill. Former Sharks forward Barclay Goodrow hit the ice for the Rangers. Goodrow won two Cups with the Tampa Bay Lightning and was traded to New York last summer, where he signed a six-year deal worth more than $3.64 million annually.

The first five minutes were in the palm of the Sharks’ hands. The Rangers were well-rested, having played only one game since last Sunday, but the Sharks had some jump early on, testing shots on goaltender Igor Shesterkin.

The Rangers have a defense that will capitalize upon any mistake the moment it happens, and box out plays like it’s nobody’s business, which makes generating zone breakouts difficult and neutral zone play particularly important.

On a short-handed rush chance, Noah Gregor bolted up the ice intent on a goal with Patrik Nemeth matching him stride-for-stride. As Gregor approached the crease, Nemeth slightly shoved into Gregor’s back, pushing him into Shesterkin and the goal. Gregor stayed on his feet, but the collision knocked the net off the posts, which was enough to draw an interference call.

While on the power play, the Rangers beat the Sharks’ top-rated penalty kill to open scoring.

By the end of the first, the Sharks were still down by one, but their overall pace of play was vibrant and energetic.

To start the second period, though, the team struggled to set anything up offensively; when they did enter the offensive zone, it was just long enough for one or two shots on goal before the Rangers cleared the puck and it went the other way.

The Sharks didn’t look like they were mismanaging the puck, per se, but the Rangers are at the top of their division for a reason. For as good as San Jose was playing (albeit in the places that could have been better), the Rangers were showing that they’re a strong contender and the toughest team the Sharks have faced to this point on the road trip, perhaps the season.

About mid-way through the period, Vlasic tripped up forward Alexis Lafreniere on a rush chance and sent the Rangers to another power play. After their first one had been successful, the Sharks’ penalty kill was on high alert.

Aside from the bad penalty (that thankfully was still successful), the Sharks were doing much better in defending the front of the net and stifling high-danger chances. The problem with the second period was that the Sharks weren’t playing as if they were down one, they were playing it safe and slow. While that cut down on opportunities going the wrong way, it didn’t allow much space to create their own scoring chances, either.

Just five minutes into the third period, Shesterkin went down after a mad scramble in front of the net on a Sharks chance, stopping play to attend to the netminder. He skated off, helped by athletic trainers, for what seemed to be a knee or groin injury. Alexander Georgiev stepped in for the rest of the game.

Joining the list of Sharks’ players who have been personally victimized by the tri-state area, Mario Ferraro was hit in the face by a redirected puck. He was okay, returning to the bench with a stitched up lip, but that can’t have felt good.

As the game wore on, the tired Sharks struggled to put anything together, and even when given a power play opportunity, nothing was connecting. It was a combination of bad puck luck, exhaustion and a robust Rangers blue line. The energy just wasn’t there — even when they just needed one goal to tie it and bring it into overtime. The Sharks just couldn’t work their way past the Rangers’ aggressive defense, and despite Hill keeping the Sharks in the game, it just wasn’t enough. The Sharks had a good run with their three-game road win streak, but the Rangers took this one, 1-0.