Quick Bites: Sharks leave Canada with a split

San Jose drops the final regular season game against Winnipeg, 4-1.

The San Jose Sharks began this season at home against the Winnipeg Jets, ending in an electric 4-3 win. Their second game against the Jets came on Oct. 30 and was perhaps the most memorable game of the season, when an hour and a half before puck drop, the Sharks placed seven players on COVID Protocol. It was definitely a night to remember for everyone, with the Sharks eking out a surprise 2-1 win in overtime with a largely untested group of players who had played the night before for the San Jose Barracuda.

Ah. Good times.

Last night marked the final time the and Sharks faced off against each other this season (unless something crazy happens and they meet during the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs).

Canada has treated the Sharks well, and the Sharks had a lot of confidence coming into the game, having won both of their previous match ups against the Jets. The team came out strong, with good energy, committing to defensive maneuvers and getting shots to the net.

In general, the Sharks know that they’ll have a hard time out-skilling a team, especially with the current state of their roster, but the Sharks will never be outworked, full strength or not. In contrast, the Jets have struggled at times to maintain energy in their first periods, and the Sharks capitalized on that in the first with a few sustained offensive chances, while the defense hemmed the Jets in their own zone.

Eventually the Sharks’ effort paid off, with the energetic fourth line pushing for a goal.  Andrew Cogliano sunk it just past Connor Hellebuyck, on a feed from Brent Burns, which extended Burns’ point streak to six games.

I didn’t know it then, but that was as good as it was going to get for the Sharks.

The Sharks had their moments of some sloppy plays (I am literally begging them to stop trying to thread the needle between like, five players in the neutral zone), and around halfway through the period a forced rebound off of netminder James Reimer led to Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor tying up the game at 1 goal each.

The first period showcased the Sharks’ ability to maintain offensive pressure for stretches at a time. The promoted players realized that this was their last opportunity to prove they deserved to stay at the NHL level.

However, while it was a great first period, the second was less so. Defensive breakdowns for the Sharks led to some Jets breakaways, including Blake Wheeler getting a good chance on Reimer. San Jose couldn’t convert on their chances and it was clear they were beginning to get frustrated by spending too much time in their own zone, unable to break out with the Jets locking down the neutral zone.

Jonah Gadjovich and Adam Lowry earned offsetting five-minute fighting majors, prompted by rising tensions, an uncalled hit on Rudolfs Balcers earlier that he was slow to get up from, and an uncalled cross-check on Jasper Weatherby by the Jets.

Defensive miscues for the Sharks has been a problem, and John Leonard and Ryan Merkley had a few missed opportunities. However, Jayob Megna, Rudolfs Balcers and Tomas Hertl generated some chances, complete with Balcers’ fifth post of the season.

It was too little, too late for the Sharks’ defense; Jets defender Nate Schmidt sunk a one-timer off of a face-off to give the Jets the go-ahead goal. While the Sharks had been dominating the faceoff circle up to that point, there was a hole in the Sharks’ defense in front of the net, Alexander Barabanov was out of position, and Schmidt took advantage of the open shooting lane.

By the end of the second, the Sharks had a hard time clearing the puck (what else is new), and the Jets had all the momentum with sustained chances. Jansen Harkins closed out the period with a goal, and the Jets were up 3-1.

During the second period, Lane Peterson was hit into the boards at an awkward angle by Logan Stanley, which seemed to slam either his knee or his ankle into the end boards. He skated to the bench, looking to be in pain, and after a conversation with one of the Sharks coaching staff he went down the hall while being supported — he wasn’t putting any weight on his left side. He briefly returned to the game in the third period for a short shift, but skated off unsteadily and did not return to the ice for the rest of the game.

Nick Bonino and Hertl were double-shifted to make up for Pederson’s absence, and the Sharks began a slow slide downhill. The Jets had all the energy, and the Sharks were lacking the crispness and explosive power that they had in the first. While Jonathan Dahlen and Burns were dependable throughout the game, Ryan Merkley fumbled further on a few confusing plays, even if he made up for it at times with a few dangerous looking shots.

Nick Bonino spoke a bit about the Sharks’ difficulties in getting anything going in the third after the game. “Sometimes when you press, structure goes out the window a little bit … we had our chances … Hellebuyck, again, is a good goalie, and we just couldn’t get them.”

San Jose wasn’t able to get anything on net and were further encumbered by their turnovers and sloppy passing. To close out the game, Jets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois scored an empty-netter.

The inexperience of the newer players and the exhaustion of overplaying the veterans wore on the Sharks and led to the 4-1 loss. I think everyone will welcome the familiar faces back from COVID Protocol, but I asked John MacLean, who had stepped up to fill in for Bob Boughner, if there was anyone who really impressed him over the past week and a half.

“I thought they all did a pretty good job, Merks [Ryan Merkley] did a good job for us up front and on the back end, and I thought all the D did a good job filling in for the defense.”

In general, everyone worked together to win the games they did, and the maturity and enthusiasm from all of the emergency call up players was impressive.

Oh, and all the missed calls the Sharks didn’t get from the referees? MacLean took the frustration in stride. “Sometimes when you’re on the road in a loud building, you don’t get the calls.”