The San Jose Sharks won last night, but in some ways, it didn’t feel like it.
It seemed like they were relieved to win, glad to find a response that I’m not 100 percent sure every Shark knew was there.
Consider the narrative: Sharks stumble out to a 3-5-0 beginning to the season, granted on a continuous 32-day road trip. Surprisingly, they get a week off in San Jose, a chance to reset everything. The first 20 minutes in Anaheim was “the start that dreams are made of,” as the Sharks dominated. But in the middle frame, three unanswered goals against in 8:19, a 3-1 deficit, and naturally, there must have that “same old story” air in the locker room.
“There was a lot said,” Bob Boughner acknowledged. “I was upset with the guys; they were upset with themselves. Your character’s in question there.”
So it’s not a surprise, despite the victory, that there will be some changes in the San Jose line-up after last night: Rudolfs Balcers makes his San Jose Sharks debut, drawing in for Sasha Chmelevski. And where will Boughner play Marc-Edouard Vlasic?
Balcers, a former Sharks’ draft pick, talked about coming back to San Jose. Then, Boughner shared what he wants from Vlasic and a still-flatlining power play.
San Jose Sharks (4-5-0)
— Locked on Balcers Szn (@LockedOnSharks) February 7, 2021
ANAHEIM DUCKS (4-6-2)
(PROJECTED: Ducks did not hold a morning skate)
WHERE TO WATCH
Puck drop is 7 PM PT at Honda Center. Watch it on NBC Sports Bay Area, Prime Ticket, or NHL.tv.
Boughner thinks Balcers can add some skill to the San Jose Sharks’ line-up. And if the 2015 fifth-rounder can fulfill some of the potential that made him so attractive to the Ottawa Senators in the Erik Karlsson trade, it will be a waiver claim well made.
Yes, Balcers wasn’t good enough to make arguably the worst team in hockey. But on the other hand, NHL front offices are far from infallible: Martin St. Louis, Chris Kunitz, and Jonathan Marchessault are among the forwards who have seen the waiver wire before finding their professional footing.
One NHL scout told me that he thinks Balcers still has legitimate third-line potential. That’s not Martin St. Louis, but the Sharks would be thrilled with that outcome.
One thing for sure, the low-key Latvian is happy to be back. And San Jose is glad to have him back — they targeted him once he hit waivers:
“I talked to my agent a little bit. He said there was some kind of discussion. It wasn’t out of nowhere. I knew a little bit,” Balcers shared. “When I got the news, I was super-excited. Just happy to be back again.”
Better play from Vlasic and the power play would also be many happy returns for Boughner.
For Boughner, it’s a delicate situation with Vlasic. This is a proud veteran, truly one of the best defensemen of his time.
The bench boss noted that three or four games was a fair amount of rope for a slow-to-start veteran in this compressed schedule — but 10 is enough.
“We don’t have time to sit around and wait for people. We don’t have time to hope our way through it,” Boughner said. “We gotta play our best players.”
Boughner had a heart-to-heart with Vlasic this morning.
“Instead of letting the play come to him, he’s got to dictate it more. Especially down low and shutting things down, being more aggressive. We talked about it this morning; he agrees,” Boughner shared. “He’s got another level to his game. We gotta see that. He’s an important piece of the puzzle.”
Can the 33-year-old ex-Olympian still access that level? The doubts are increasing.
SPORTLOGiQ Pre-Game Stat of the Night
I wrote extensively about the San Jose Sharks’ power play struggles last week:
Boughner addressed three of the problems that my article touched on:
“We have to win faceoffs on our power play. We can’t be chasing pucks for the first 30 seconds on the power play.
“Our entries, we have to have a little more support.
“Once we get set up, it can’t be a one-and-done situation.”
Per SPORTLOGiQ, the Sharks are struggling to win power play faceoffs, enter the zone with possession, and recovering shot attempts.
Another stat addresses the “big picture” problem: San Jose is 24th in the league in Power Play Offensive Zone Time. Their 61.8 PP OZ% time — the amount of time that the Sharks have the puck on the PP in the OZ — is far behind the Ranger’s league-leading 72.2.
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