Quick Bites: Sharks fall to Kraken in first meeting

There’s only room for one sea creature in this league … and last night, it wasn’t the Sharks.

Last night was a landmark game for the Shark Tank — it was the first time the San Jose Sharks met and hosted their new division mates, the Seattle Kraken. And who else would be a part of the welcome party than three former Sharks players? Ryan Donato, Joonas Donskoi and Alexander True made up the starting line for the Kraken, in what was a homecoming for the ages.

The first period was a relatively equal game, with both teams earning extended offensive zone time, some dangerous chances and a couple of awe-inducing stops from goaltenders James Reimer and Chris Driedger.

This was probably the fastest first period the Sharks have played in a long time, since there was no whistle or tv break for over 10 minutes, which meant two things: 1) both teams were playing a clean, fast game, and 2) San Jose had time to settle into the groove of the game. First periods have been the toughest for the Sharks as of late, and while the Kraken controlled the first five minutes, the game opened up quickly.

There were no goals, penalties or big moments in the first period, but there were a lot of positives signs. First, Reimer’s aggressive net-front presence was huge. He comes out of his crease to challenge far more often than he plays the puck, making him both an active part of the play (and therefore more likely to save the puck) and actively engaged. Reimer made several nifty kick saves and windmilling glove saves — all on routine shots, but you can’t deny the man has style. Plus, he currently has the fourth-highest save percentage in the NHL, coming back from illness to continue to reign supreme.

While in the offensive zone, the Sharks did a good job of throwing pucks on the net, even if they weren’t shots from optimal angles. Playing with urgency and leveling as many pucks on the net as possible is a key part of San Jose’s ideal style of play, but it’s easy to get away from that narrative. Take a look at any of the team’s losses, and a lack of offensive-zone urgency is a common denominator.

Finally, rookie Jonathan Dahlen is the (underrated) king of setting up key scoring opportunities for his line mates. Whether driving the net or cycling the puck behind it, he’s creative and generous with his plays. The one problem is that his line mates don’t always capitalize upon those established chances. Noah Gregor sat on the top line for this game with Logan Couture and Dahlen, so the missed passes and miscommunication is most likely due to the top line still trying how to blend their skillsets and experience.

The first period ended with a minute and a half of high-energy chances from the Kraken, and the tired Sharks couldn’t clear the puck or bring it out. If there’s one thing San Jose struggles with, it’s finding the energy to maintain a strong defensive presence in their own zone at the end of periods. Or, in other words, they’re gassed and can’t be bothered.

The second period began much the way of the first, with end-to-end low-chance play from both teams. Neither are known for the defense, but that was fast becoming the formula for the game. Both teams were fast and energetic, but the defense was working overtime, like Seattle’s Adam Larsson, who played goalie for an empty net and robbed Matt Nieto of a goal.

Candidate for save of the year?

You can tell it was a wide-open game because the first penalty wasn’t called until there were only five minutes left in the second when Jonah Gadjovich drew a holding call on Vince Dunn. The power play left a lot to be desired. Neither unit was adequately screening Driedger and their lack of net-front presence meant that every missed rebound was a missed goal.

Reimer and Driedger hadn’t been tested much throughout the first or second, and the game was a battle for the neutral zone more than anything.

Eventually, the power play expired and soon followed the period, entering the third period on equal footing, tied at 0.

The third looked like it was going to be a boring, suffocatingly-defensive game, until the ghost of Christmas past came back to haunt the Sharks in the form of a Ryan Donato goal. Okay, so technically it was an own goal since it popped off Sharks defender Radim Simek’s skate and into a mostly open net, since Reimer was way out of the crease, but Donskoi still tallied an assist, so … Donato’s revenge goal really did taste like revenge.

The Sharks began to rely more on dump-ins as the game wore on, since the Kraken were breaking up any concentrated zone entries. Alexander Barabanov was working hard in the corners and Brent Burns was doing his best but there was no one in front of Driedger to clean up the garbage.

It’s the most frustrating part of the Sharks’ game and one that can only be fixed in practice. The team’s net-front presence, in either the offensive or defensive zones, is virtually nonexistent. It contributed to the Sharks’ downfall against the Kraken, too.

The Kraken piled on and winger Brandon Tanev netted the go-ahead goal on, again, a mostly empty net with very little defense crowding around.

If this year’s Sharks have taught us anything, though, it’s that the team is resilient and captain Couture sent in a stinger of a goal (the shot was so loud I could hear it reverberate off his stick all the way up in the press box) to break Driedger’s shutout bid. The crowd erupted like the Sharks had just tied the game. With two minutes to go from his goal, the Sharks did their best to equalize the score and bring it to overtime.

All the excitement of the game was saved for the final minute of play. Reimer was on the bench, the Sharks were buzzing and then Jamie Oleksiak went sprawling into the posts, knocking the net off its moorings and forcing a stoppage with 30 seconds on the clock. After heart-stopping deliberation, there was no penalty called on the play.

San Jose had their opportunity, but it swung the other way and Seattle collected an empty-net goal with five seconds on the clock.

In the first-ever meeting between the two teams, the Sharks fell 3-1 to the Kraken.