Jabber Jaws: Boughner talks Penguins pregame

The same line-up will face the Penguins, but the team is focused on improving the power play, thanks to the flexibility Ryan Merkley provides.

Before the San Jose Sharks hit the ice to face-off against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they first had to take the ice for a quick pregame practice. Head coach Bob Boughner spoke to the media about the status of goaltender James Reimer, along with Jonah Gadjovich and Jacob Middleton, changes to the power play and how the team is preparing for the tough stretch ahead.

Here are the highlights from what Boughner had to say:

Bob Boughner

On tonight’s line-up: It’s going to be the same line-up we started with last game, although Reimer is backing up tonight.

On Reimer’s status: He’s had some good work in, him and Nabby spent a lot of time together, individually, and he’s been in a few full practices now. He feels he’s in a spot where he can play if need be, and we’ll see how tonight goes. It might be the plan against LA on Monday. We have to see how he feels in the next day or two.

On changes to the power play: We’re looking at to switch those two units up a little bit and tweak ‘em up. The ability to have Ryan Merkley play on the other unit, I like him up top, so that might allow us to have Burns and Karly on the same unit. We’ve tried it in the past and we’ve had mediocre success with it, but at the end of the day, if you get those two out there and you have Tommy and Cooch and Timo, you’ve got your five best players on the ice and it’s up to them. They’ve gotta get it done. You can provide the structure and the details in what you want to do, at the end of the day, the execution, they gotta do it.

That’ll push Dahlen to the other unit. But Ryan Merkley, right on the top, we didn’t have that before, so we had to separate Karly and Burns. We’ll see how it works.

On what has contributed to shorthanded goals against: More or less, anything is human mistake errors. [...] Just bad decisions. You gotta have your five guys at work there, you have to have that 5-on-5 mentality.

Last game, same thing. Wingers gotta help on those 50/50 draws. I don’t think we did a good enough job helping our centermen there, and then [Dahlen] just made a bad decision of diving in. Even on the way back, him and Burnzie could’ve communicated better. It was an easy sort-out and we didn’t do it. You gotta think, as power play guy, when that puck flips over and you flip possession, now you gotta have your 5-on-5 mentality there.

We haven’t been good at it. We talked about that this morning. As a team, that something that’s gotta improve and that’s on those five guys that are gonna be out there. They’ve gotta  execute.

On the stretch of schedule ahead: You go South there and the Eastern side and hit both Florida teams who are playing well, and Carolina, you gotta stop in Washington before your way there. You got Pitt tonight, New York Rangers last week, yeah, of course it is [tough]. Any time you play the best teams in the league, that are having the most success, you have to have your game in a good spot, and I think our game is in a good spot.

I told the guys this morning, if we can replicate what we did against the Rangers — analytically, we were good in most departments, obviously except finishing — our Expected Goals were enough to win the game. I like to not so much focus on the other goalie, Shesterkin or whoever’s in there tonight, it’s about us. We can do a better job of finishing in close. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the fourth line or the first line, those chances have to be buried. These guys have all scored goals their whole career at every level.

We can talk about how good the other goalie is, that we’re snakebitten and we hit a couple crossbars, but that doesn’t do us any good. We’ve gotta find a way to bury pucks and stick around that blue paint.

On the first five minutes: Pittsburgh coming off a loss in LA, we know they’re gonna be hungry. I think this is the second game for Malkin back, so they got a lot of tools, a lot of weapons. Against any of these real elite teams, you gotta put pucks behind ‘em and make them defend. That’s what the first five minutes is, it’s about dictating pace, and it’s about trying to have your first four or five shifts dictate the way the rest of the game’s gonna go. Be hard to play against.

On Balcers’ return: I thought he looked okay. I don’t think he hurt himself. It looked like a player that’s been out for awhile, but he handled his minutes. There’s more in the tank there, it’s just getting acclimated, getting his timing back. And playing on that line, it’s not an easy line to play on if you’ve been out for awhile. He’ll get up to speed and I’m sure, I expect him to be even better tonight.

On what the team misses when Barabanov isn’t on the ice: He’s got so much patience with the puck. Not only on the entry, he makes those great passes when we’re coming in and they’ve got numbers and they’re standing the line, he can make those plays. He’ll turn ‘em over once in a while, all skilled players do, trying to force things once in a while. Even below the tops of the circles, I think that Timo’s line missed him a little bit there, as well. It’s just that chemistry they developed together, a little patience, sort of knowing where each other is. I think he was definitely missed last game.

On updates on Gadjovich, Middleton: Jonah’s getting better, he’s improving. He’s still not ready to play, obviously. [Middleton]’s still going through his concussion protocol. He’s had good days and bad days. He’s skated the last two days, but not today, so it’s gonna be a process with him, like it is with most guys that are going through that.

*Lightly edited for clarity