The San Jose Sharks needed to steal a game for once.
“Steal” might be a bit much – but there’s no doubt that St. Louis was the better team in San Jose’s 3-2 OT victory.
Devan Dubnyk was a difference-maker though, especially in the second period, when he stopped 15 of 16 shots.
“The ones he saw and the ones he had to make the saves,” Bob Boughner said, “he did.”
That doesn’t sound like much, but Dubnyk’s dependable performance in a tight contest was a breath of fresh air.
Of course, it’s not the first time that a San Jose Sharks netminder has played well this year – though it sure feels like it – but the difference tonight?
This was the first time that Dubnyk has started two straight contests for the Sharks. We know what Martin Jones can do – or can’t do – Dubnyk, making just his eighth start in 22 games, is still a little bit of a mystery for San Jose.
Hopefully, this is a story with a happy ending. Because if Dubnyk falters and the Sharks have to rely on Jones or test rookies Alexei Melnichuk or Josef Korenar – cue the horror music.
Karlsson Revival, Power Play Revival
Before Erik Karlsson’s return to the line-up on Feb. 27, the San Jose Sharks had been mired in a 3-for-40 slump on the power play. Since then, the Sharks have connected at a 5-for-20 clip.
“He’s done a great job skating the puck up the ice,” Logan Couture said of Karlsson’s contribution to the man advantage. “In zone, he makes a lot of passes. He sucks guys in, looks guys off, and then finds the open guy.”
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) March 9, 2021
Off the draw, Karlsson (65) drifts toward the middle of the ice, sucking Sammy Blais (12) toward him. This draws attention away from Rudolfs Balcers (92) at the left point.
It doesn’t seem like much, but Karlsson’s patience buys Balcers an extra split-second or two to make that high-low pass to Ryan Donato (16).
The return of a healthy Karlsson – and splitting Karlsson and Brent Burns on the power play – has appeared to be a boon for both units.
Underscoring this – and also an example of how Karlsson may be adding to the top power play unit’s puck possession and movement – is how many more shot attempts that the San Jose Sharks top PP unit is enjoying.
From the beginning of the season to Feb. 13, when Karlsson exited the home opener, the Sharks averaged, per Natural Stat Trick, just 94.51 Shot Attempts Per 60 at 5-on-4. That was good for 16th in the NHL.
Since Karlsson’s return? With the Swedish slickster on the ice, San Jose has averaged 113.25 Shot Attempts Per 60 at 5-on-4. That’s a good rate – Carolina leads the league at 113.24 right now. Now shot attempts don’t necessarily mean dangerous offense, but in this case, it looks like the Sharks are getting a lot of offense because of Karlsson’s presence.
Kevin Labanc faced the music, taking our questions after he was benched for the entirety of the third period because of two second period penalties.
“The message was sent with me sitting him for the period,” Boughner shared. “I talked to him earlier in the game about working away from the puck. I even showed him a couple clips on the bench in the iPad. He just wasn’t engaged enough; I didn’t believe that he could help us tonight after what I saw.”
For his part, a downtrodden Labanc mentioned, “Yeah, I just think they weren’t happy with my game. So they did what they did. And yeah, that’s in the past and move on from it and get ready for the next game.”
So what does Labanc need to improve in his game?
“Just chip it in and go to work. Keep it simple,” Labanc said. “Both those penalties obviously weren’t ideal. So yeah, that’s it and chip it out and go get it.”
The San Jose Sharks, especially with Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier in the line-up, need more from Labanc. Will they get it on the upcoming road trip?
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