Quick Bites: Sharks start season 3-0 with win over Senators

The Sharks have a few things to work on, but they have the building blocks for a competitive season.

What was the main takeaway from this game (aside from it being another exciting win)? This game was proof that while the San Jose Sharks have a few things to work on, they have all of the building blocks for a competitive season that just might end in a bid for the playoffs. Importantly, it was a win against a similarly young and hungry team.

It was also a homecoming of sorts for some Sharks players in Ottawa. Erik Karlsson returned to face the team he formerly captained until he was traded to the Sharks in 2018. Rudolfs Balcers, Josh Norris and Chris Tierney were the player pieces involved in that trade who took the ice last night (Tim Stutzle, also in the line up, was notably drafted with the first-round pick included in the package). Balcers played for the Senators for a period of time before being claimed off waivers and returned to the Sharks in 2021. Norris and Tierney played on the other side of the ice, both still with the Senators. Shark forward Jonathan Dahlen was originally drafted by the Ottawa Senators, although he never played for the organization.

It was the same line up on the ice for Sharks as in their games against the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens, which shows that head coach Bob Boughner is confident in the lines and pairings that were constructed in training camp. Like the Senators, the Sharks are thriving on their young talent, but the coaching staff have cracked the code on how to best optimize their young kids, and it showed in this game; let the kids bring the energy, and have the veterans settle it down on the ice.

The big moment from the first period was an injury to Senators center Shane Pinto. Mario Ferraro had a good, clean hit on Pinto, but he fell awkwardly into the boards when the puck got away from him and he lost his footing, sustaining what is likely a wrist or shoulder injury. There was no penalty called on the play (again, it was a clean hit), but Pinto did not return to the game.

The Sharks, who struggled with energy last year, kept pace with the Senators’ energetic, end-to-end play in the first, although there were points where it was obvious that the Senators were faster, and that the Sharks veteran players needed to slow the game down in order to maintain puck possession. Players like Tomas Hertl and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are particularly good at this, and both flexed their skill in the game, especially in the neutral and offensive zones.

All four lines were operating smoothly, even if they were being out-played by the Senators at times. Nick Bonino and Jasper Weatherby both made subtle, detail-oriented plays and Bob was comfortably cycling lines.

Despite the Sharks looking more comfortable to longer the game wore on, the Senators capitalized upon the Sharks’ lack of speed. Halfway through the period, Drake Batherson, from Brady Tkachuk and Artem Zub, netted the Sens their first (and only) goal of the game.

Eventually the Sharks’ chances were looking more dangerous, and it (almost) worked out. With 6:19 minutes remaining, Kevin Labanc (excuse me, Kevin Ovechkin in the locker room) made a heads up play to go far side, top corner on Murray. Unfortunately, because the Senators are a buzz kill, the goal was successfully challenged for being offside (But don’t worry, because Labanc got his revenge later on).

The second period started with a goal from the captain, Logan Couture himself, with 18:02 still left in the period on a backhand shot from Brent Burns and Timo Meier, tying the score. The period was all Sharks. Their defensive coverage was the most successful it had been the whole game. They were chasing down pucks and keeping them in the offensive zone, regrouping at the blue line quickly to set up good chances in front of the net and playing confidently.

The most dangerous Sharks are the ones who are comfortable being down in a game because they can still come back to win it.

Defender Radim Simek had a great game, with several rushes up the ice in the second and good net front presence, as did Jasper Weatherby, who was part of the set up to Labanc’s power play goal with just over five minutes left in the period. Oh yeah, Labanc wasn’t satisfied with getting a disallowed goal. Nicolas Paul had a high-sticking on Karlsson, sending the Sharks to the man-advantage. A passing sequence between Karlsson and Eklund landed on Labanc’s stick and the Sharks took a 2-1 lead.

The third period was ... sleepy for the Sharks. In years past, San Jose couldn’t sustain offensive pressure and energy for long, but this (thankfully) wasn’t the culprit for them allowing Ottawa too much zone time. Honestly, the Sharks just looked gassed. They were operating on short shifts, and were frankly kept in the lead by James Reimer for the most part.

The rookies were following the veterans’ lead, even when the Senators outshot the Sharks in the first and third periods. To end the game, the Senators led in shots (31 to 24), faceoff wins (53 percent to 47 percent) and hits (28 to 39). But, the Sharks’ strengths were in their special teams, perpetual confidence and goaltending, which they’ll lean on in in the second half of their back-to-back.

It’s a quick turnaround. The next game is tomorrow against the Toronto Maple Leafs at 3 p.m. PT/6 p.m. ET at Scotiabank Arena. The team will be tired, which will make faceoffs and maintaining pressure (and a lead) more difficult. But their confidence riding the high of a 3-0-0 season could be the defining factor in that game.