It’s been just one game back from COVID protocol for a third of the San Jose Sharks roster, but there was plenty that head coach Bob Boughner did not like in Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
So much so, winger Kevin Labanc has been sent to the fourth line and defenseman Radim Simek to the bench. Labanc will skate with center Jasper Weatherby and Jonah Gadjovich, while rookie Santeri Hatakka will take the right side next to Marc-Edouard Vlasic on Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild.
This doesn’t exempt Vlasic from criticism.
Boughner said the decision on which defenseman to sit for Hatakka came down to Simek or Vlasic: “To be honest, I think that the decision could have went either way.”
That’s not a ringing endorsement for a veteran bottom pairing that Boughner noted has been “average at best” all season and “needs a little more urgency.”
As for Labanc, Boughner was even more specific in his critique.
“I think for Kevin, it’s the details of his game,” Boughner offered. “I know he was out for a while [in COVID protocol], but you see on the penalty he took in the game the other night in Colorado.”
“We go D to D, we want him to stretch on the offensive side of that red line. So we can just redirect [the puck], chip it, and get on the forecheck,” Boughner lamented. “He doesn’t do that, he loses the battle on the boards, he trips the guy 150 feet away from the net, and all sudden, we’re killing a penalty when we had great flow to the game.”
Three things: Labanc is indeed on the wrong side of the red line. A chip-in from there, if the puck makes it all the way down, is a San Jose Sharks icing. Second, the puck doesn’t even advance forward – that’s a board battle lost – and finally, Labanc takes an unnecessary hooking penalty.
Devon Toews would strike on the ensuing Avs power play.
For Boughner, this particular gaffe is a symptom of a larger Labanc problem: His 5-on-5 play has been subpar this season. We saw what it could be in Ottawa – but that hasn’t been the case on a night-to-night basis.
“We’re looking for his five-on-five game to step up,” Boughner said. “I briefly talked to him this morning about needing a little more urgency and a little more puck possession as an offensive player. You want to see him spending time in the offensive zone, getting three or four good looks a game. Not just waiting for special teams, to get out to the power play, to make a difference.”
To wit, Labanc has scored zero points at 5-on-5 this season; all his production has come on the power play. Boughner realizes that Labanc hasn’t had the benefit of playing in San Jose’s top-six – he’s played mostly with Nick Bonino, who’s pointless 5-on-5 and on the PP – but that doesn’t excuse a player of Labanc’s skill.
“We’re not getting enough [offense] from the bottom part of our lineup. Third-line right winger, fourth-line right winger or wherever he is, he’s got to help produce,” Boughner stressed.
It’s an unfair burden, perhaps. Labanc is the most offensively-talented player in the bottom-six of the team’s forward corps. He hasn’t received a ton of help.
But the winger can be so valuable to the San Jose Sharks if he can provide the secondary scoring that his talent (and contract) suggest he should be able to provide.
“You get put into a position and you got to find a way to make the best of that situation and succeed in that situation,” Boughner said. “There’s another level to his game, we haven’t seen it yet, and we need it.”
San Jose Sharks (7-6-1)
Projected lines for tonight's #SJSharks game.
— The Content Boyz (@LockedOnSharks) November 16, 2021
Minnesota Wild (10-4-0)
Kirill Kaprizov — Frederick Gaudreau — Mats Zuccarello
Marcus Foligno — Joel Eriksson Ek — Kevin Fiala
Jordan Greenway — Ryan Hartman — Rem Pitlick
Brandon Duhaime — Nico Sturm — Nick Bjugstad
Alex Goligoski — Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin — Matt Dumba
Jon Merrill — Dmitry Kulikov
Where to Watch
Puck drop against Minnesota is 5 PM PT at Xcel Energy Center. Watch it live on NBC Sports California and ESPN+. Listen to it on the Sharks Audio Network.
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