Quick Bites: Sharks slide further in standings
Jack Eichel scores his first goal with the Golden Knights, which is just plain rude.
Are they really the Vegas Golden Knights without Robin Lehner and Mark Stone? Maybe, if you count Jack Eichel, who was suited up to take on the San Jose Sharks for his third game of the season, following neck surgery.
James Reimer was back in San Jose’s net with Zach Sawchenko as back-up. Rudolfs Balcers returned after taking a game off due to a painful blocked shot against the Edmonton Oilers and Jonathan Dahlen was dropped to the fourth line, joined by Jeffrey Viel and Lane Pederson.
Needless to say, it was a different-looking line-up for both teams since the last time they’d met in the regular season (which was last year).
The first period started off strong, with the Sharks bringing momentum from an overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks in their last game as fuel. The early jump was a positive sign that the Sharks weren’t taking whatever losing streak they might have to heart.
Balcers took a double minor for a high stick on Nicolas Hague, and even though it was under review for a hot minute, it still stood, and it gave the Golden Knights an extended power play that abruptly changed the momentum of the first period. Up until that point, San Jose was driving the offense and controlling puck possession. While Reimer made a series of giant save and Matt Nieto orchestrated more than one break, you could see the tide turning in favor of Vegas.
The longer they went without a goal on the four-minute man advantage, the more frustrated and frenetic they became, eventually leading to a goal right as time expired on the power play from Keegan Kolesar.
Though the Sharks looked strong in the opening five minutes, Reimer had his moments of struggling to control rebounds or work through traffic. Here, Kolesar let off a right-handed wrist shot, opening the score.
The rest of the period was filled with back and forth action. Brent Burns took a tripping call late and after some scrambling defense and a heads-up break by Logan Couture, the Sharks finally had a penalty called their way, although the 4-on-4 didn’t end the way they’d hoped.
In the last five and a half minutes, Jack Eichel scored his first goal as a Golden Knight on a feed from Chandler Stephenson. It was, I’m sure, a spectacular moment of vindication and relief for Eichel after the surgery debacle, but on the other side of the ice, it meant ending the first period behind two goals, again.
The Sharks’ on-ice identity is strong and has been proven to win. The team can’t necessarily out-score whatever defensive troubles they may have, but they can certainly outwork a team in the corners. And against a team like Vegas, who tends to play physical, the Sharks can certainly keep pace. They just have to be able to score goals as well as they defend against them.
In the first two and a half minutes of the second period, Max Pacioretty scored the third goal of the game by going top-corner on Reimer. He had his arms up in celebration, but the goal horn was in denial, and it wasn’t until an official review took place that confirmed what the Sharks were dreading — it was a good goal, and they were sliding down the slope.
The less said about the second period the better, and it’s a good thing NHL players often say they need the memory of goldfish to move on to the next game because I’m sure there will be lots of tape to watch from what was ultimately an unsatisfactory 20 minutes. There was no goal-scoring on either end after Pacioretty’s tally, but the Sharks unraveled.
They played too fancy in their own zone, out of sync with each other, and individualistic. Each of these players is immensely talented, yes, but a team is always more successful when they communicate and work together. Obviously, that’s easier said than done, but the Sharks have shown it time and time again that when they have a team-first mentality on the ice, they can win.
But under pressure and while frustrated, the team was disorganized, which made it difficult to construct an effective, concentrated attack, even if the fourth line and Nicolas Meloche were doing their best in the final 10 minutes to get anything going.
The final period showed more fight than the second, and while Logan Thompson (in his second NHL start) was fighting for every inch of a shutout, Nick Bonino finally put one into the net from the high slot at the halfway mark.
Bones buries the puck 🦴@NickBonino | #SJSharks pic.twitter.com/YiyfndwivG— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) February 21, 2022
It would be unfair to say that the Sharks weren’t looking for chances, or that there hadn’t been a multitude of fairly high-quality shots for the Sharks throughout the game. However, it would be fair to say that you can’t win a game (easily) by only showing up for the final ten minutes.
There was another unsuccessful power play opportunity, which will be a point of improvement going forward and despite the Sharks’ best efforts, Stephenson secured the empty-netter in the final thirty seconds of the game to end it 4-1.
Or not end it, because the game actually ended with Viel, Kolesar and a huddle of hot-tempers duking it out in the final seconds.
Looking ahead, the Sharks have a brief, one-stop away game in Anaheim on the docket. With a losing streak firmly in place, the Sharks will need to recoup some points. Not every game is “winnable,” but the Sharks will have to find a winning formula. A little confidence, cool heads (and our hopes and prayers) and maybe the Sharks will be able to turn things around.