After a nine-month offseason, Maxim Letunov was excited to return for the San Jose Sharks’ 2021 training camp. However, entering the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol early in camp kept the Russian center off the ice and confined to his hotel room for two weeks.
“It sucks that I had to miss the whole training camp,” Letunov said Monday. “I can tell you I didn’t have any symptoms or didn’t feel like anything. But the protocol is the protocol and I had to follow it.”
The 25-year-old was the first Sharks player to enter the COVID-19 protocol. Before he could return, Letunov quarantined for 10 days, then went through testing for another four days. This was a tough break for Letunov, who had led the Barracuda with 40 points last year, and had spent the long offseason training with defenseman Nikolai Knyzhov.
“It’s always nice to work out in the summer with someone you know,” Letunov said. “We always pushed each other and the hard work has been paying off.”
Knyzhov, an undrafted 23-year-old who joined the San Jose Sharks organization last season, greatly impressed in training camp. Currently playing alongside Erik Karlsson, Knyzhov hasn’t missed a game for the Sharks all season. Between training together and watching camp, Letunov said he knew Knyzhov was NHL-ready.
“I was watching all of the practices and scrimmages online and he looked really good out there,” Letunov said. “It’s well-deserved.”
Maxim Letunov's first goal of the year, assisted by Ryan Merkley and Robbie Russo. pic.twitter.com/pPBJC4XrzF
— Brian Truong (@_BrianTruong) March 7, 2021
While Letunov was cleared to return without further complications, he remained on the San Jose Sharks taxi squad and didn’t see any game time for another month. He finally made his season debut for the Barracuda Feb. 27.
So far, it’s been a quiet return. After scoring 12 goals and 28 assists in 50 games last season, Letunov has just two goals through 12 games. He scored four games into his return, on Mar. 6 against San Diego.
Nice first game back so far for Ivan Chekhovich, setting up Maxim Letunov's goal pic.twitter.com/NmBakBmwM8
— Brian Truong (@_BrianTruong) March 20, 2021
In fellow Russian Ivan Chekhovich’s return to the Barracuda Mar. 20, he set up Letunov for the opening goal.
“I’m starting to feel like I’m finally back to where I want to be,” Letunov said. “I think my last two to three games were my best games of the season and, I’ve been creating a lot of chances, had a lot of energy and, I think the points will come if I can keep playing that way.”
Cuda shut down in shootout
The Barracuda (6-6-4-1) lost in their first shootout of the season, falling to the Bakersfield Condors (11-6-0-1) 4-3 Wednesday night.
Defenseman Ryan Merkley and forward Evan Weinger both returned from injury in the Barracuda’s seventh meeting with the Condors. Merkley missed his first game of the season Sunday due to an aggravated wrist. Weinger was out for four games after taking a hard hit in Bakersfield Mar. 13.
Seven minutes into the game, the Barracuda opened the scoring for the third consecutive game against the Condors. Stefan Noesen cleaned up a rebound for his first goal as a Barracuda, assisted by Nick DeSimone and Joel Kellman. The 1-0 lead remained through the first period, despite Bakersfield leading shots on goal by 17-8.
After the Condors tied the game early in the second period, Noah Gregor sped through the neutral zone, shook off the Bakersfield defender, and snapped in his second Barracuda goal this season. Nicolas Meloche earned his third assist in four games while helping Gregor snap a six-game scoreless streak.
— Brian Truong (@_BrianTruong) March 25, 2021
The Condors tied the game just two minutes later, then scored early in the third period to take a 3-2 lead. Trailing for the first time all night, San Jose put on the pressure in the third period, outshooting Bakersfield 10-6.
Gregor earned his second point of the night after playing give-and-go with Joachim Blichfeld, who corralled his own blocked pass to score the game-tying goal with 2:33 left in the third period. With 10 goals in 13 games, Blichfeld is second in the AHL in goal scoring.
— Brian Truong (@_BrianTruong) March 25, 2021
The Barracuda couldn’t convert on a power play opportunity in the final minute of overtime, then lost in their first shootout of the season. Alexander True was the only Barracuda that scored in the shootout. Rookie goaltender Sam Harvey (1-2-0-0) made 37 saves in his first start since Feb. 13.
The Condors are the Barracuda’s most common opponent this year, leading 6-1 in the season series. They will match up again Tuesday, Mar. 30 at Solar4America Ice.
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