2021 Rookie Faceoff Recap, Game 1: Sharks rookies no match for Zegras and Co.

A penalty and goal-filled affair kicked off the Sharks’ 2021 Rookie Faceoff campaign.

After a year-long hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, the San Jose Sharks once again fielded a team of prospects to take part in the Rookie Faceoff tournament, joining the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and the hosts, the Arizona Coyotes. The Sharks’ first game of the tournament took place in the Scottsdale Ice Den, where they took on the Anaheim Ducks.

Zachary Emond got the call in goal for the Sharks, while the Ducks opted to platoon their goaltenders as they’ve done in preseasons past, starting Roman Durny for the first half of the game and subbing in Gage Alexander for the second half. The Sharks decided to send the fourth line of Krystof Hrabik, Zachary Gallant and Macauley Carson out to start the game, with the first defensive pairing of Santeri Hatakka and Ryan Merkley supporting them.

It didn’t take too long for the scoring to start, however, it came at the behest of the Sharks. Wouldn’t you know, it was the Ducks’ star prospect Trevor Zegras who had an opening on a 2-on-1, putting the Ducks in front with not even a minute gone in the opening frame (57 seconds, to be exact).

The start to the game was, unfortunately, a sign of things to come further on, as the San Jose prospects just couldn’t seem to match Anaheim’s pace. The Ducks didn’t hesitate to score another and Sasha Pastujov went post-and-in to make it a 2-0 Ducks lead.

After the Sharks were given a bench minor for delay of game, the Ducks quickly capitalized off of the faceoff with an absolute missile from the slot to make it 3-0. The game took on a more physical feel following that, with two minor Duck penalties. The Sharks looked better organized from that point in the period, but couldn’t yet score a goal, heading to the locker room down 3-0.

The Sharks came into the second period with more focus, and it paid off early. Ryan Merkley ripped a shot from the point that was deflected by Jasper Weatherby, giving the Sharks their first goal of the game. However, their vibe was killed by Anaheim when Hunter Drew scored almost immediately off the face-off and restored the Ducks’ three-goal lead. Not long after that, Jacob Perreault scored the Ducks’ second power play goal of the game, which gave the Ducks a 5-1 lead. The Ducks continued to carry their momentum into the end of the second period, even after the goaltending change.

In an intermission interview with Nick Nollenberger, Sharks prospect Brandon Coe, who was on the camp roster, but a healthy scratch for this game, predicted the Sharks would come out for the third period with a proverbial fire lit under them. His prediction turned out to be true, as the Sharks scored just 40 seconds into the final frame. Zachary Gallant was the goal-scorer with assists by Max McCue and Ryan Merkley.

What Coe may not have accounted for, though, was that the Ducks would respond rather quickly, just like they did in the previous period. It was once again Sasha Pastujov, scoring his second of the game to make it 6-2. With both teams a man down on a 4-on-4, Pastujov struck again, scoring a hat trick four minutes after his last goal, putting the game well out of reach at 7-2.

Despite the lopsided score, though, the Sharks refused to go down quietly. While on the two-man advantage with just under five minutes to go, Ozzy Wiesblatt scored to chip away at the Ducks’ lead. About a minute after that, 2021 fifth-round pick Max McCue got the Sharks closer with a 7-4 score, but any hope the Sharks had at mounting a very late comeback was dashed by Jacob Perreault’s second goal of the game, putting the cherry on top of an 8-4 Ducks victory.

It was certainly a clunker of a game for this Sharks prospects group. While he did let up all eight goals, most of them can’t be blamed on Zachary Emond, who was essentially under siege by the Ducks’ potent offense. Ryan Merkley was a stand-out, which is exactly what the 2018 first-round pick needed after a lackluster 2020-21 AHL rookie season. With three assists on the night alone, Merkley was simply making it happen for the Sharks’ offense.

The Sharks next play in the Rookie Faceoff tournament against the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday afternoon, scheduled for a 2 p.m. PT puck drop.