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Quick Thoughts: A Desperate Gambrell in 4-1 Sharks’ Loss?

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Credit: NBCS Bay Area

On one hand, we’re just five games into the season. On the other hand, it’s a 56-game sprint.

In much the same way, the San Jose Sharks’ 2-3-0 record is half-glass full, half-glass empty.

Let’s start with the negative: The Sharks dropped a 4-1 nail-biter to the Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Two of the home team’s goals were empty-netters.

Now let’s drink the Kool-Aid: San Jose, for the second straight game, played winning 5-on-5 hockey. Just for example, per Natural Stat Trick, the Sharks carried an 18-12 Scoring Chances advantage. And while they lost the High-Danger Corsi For (Scoring Chances) battle 7-4, most of Minnesota’s most troubling opportunities came in a short second period sequence, which included the game-winning Zach Parise goal.

“I thought we played a great two periods”, Boughner agreed, “with the exception of about a 3-minute span.”

You can talk yourself into Doug Wilson and Boughner’s plan: San Jose played mostly sound team defense, and concurrently, Devan Dubnyk turned in a solid game with his share of important saves.

Also for the second consecutive contest, Erik Karlsson demonstrated consistent jump in his step, creating offense out of thin air almost at will. Underscoring this, per SPORTLOGiQ, Karlsson led all skaters with 1:11 OZ Possession Time, All Situations. The closest Shark was Kevin Labanc at 00:42; the closest Wild was Kevin Fiala at 00:31.

And yet, there are still more questions than answers, especially up front. And the answers to these questions may decide the course of the 2020-21 campaign.

A Desperate Gambrell?

Dylan Gambrell emerged in the final frame of the San Jose Sharks’ 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

Down a goal, Bob Boughner elevated Gambrell between Evander Kane and Timo Meier. Hertl was paired with John Leonard, Matt Nieto or Stefan Noesen rotating in.

“I just wanted to see if I could get some offense going,” Boughner said.

It didn’t feel much like a demotion of Hertl, who still played plenty, but an attempt to balance the lines. Hertl and Gambrell, along with Ryan Donato, all played eight shifts in the third period, trailing, among Sharks forwards, only Logan Couture’s 10.

But was this a promising development for San Jose or a desperate gamble?

Gambrell did plenty of of good tonight, flashing speed, upgraded strength, and impactful hustle. But he’s also a 24-year-old forward who’s subject to waivers and has scored 11 points in 63 combined games over four seasons. He’s a fine defensive center but his offensive upside is a legitimate question.

Perhaps Gambrell is feeling the heat? Anyway, here’s an example of some of his good work:

Gambrell (7) does a nice job weaving through a “prevent” Minnesota defense — notice the Wild hanging three at the blueline, content to protect their lead — gaining entry and finding an open Kevin Labanc (62). Then, he outraces Ryan Suter (7) to a loose puck, keeping it alive for Timo Meier (28) to nearly connect with Labanc.

Despite this, five games into the season, the San Jose Sharks have received zero sure answers in their desperate need for help up front beyond their top-five. Rookie John Leonard starred in the season opener but has gone a little quiet. Noah Gregor lost his third-line center job three games into the season and has been a healthy scratch since. Matt Nieto was moved back to the fourth line. Ryan Donato has enjoyed more than his share of scoring chances — per SPORTLOGiQ, he led the team with five Slot Shots On Net tonight, three more than any other Shark — but has only one goal to show for his efforts.

“The key to any of these guys that are in-and-out guys is consistency. I tell that to all the young guys,” Boughner said. “It’s great to come in and play a great game or two, but to maintain that. Be consistent so the coach knows what he’s getting. So it’s not a rollercoaster.”

So many questions, so few answers.

Based on his track record and age, Gambrell is not going to provide a long-term solution. But with waiver claim Rudolf Balcers in quarantine, the 2016 second-round pick has a week or so yet to at least suggest that he might belong in a high-leverage NHL role. A healthy Sharks squad is full up on forwards, so someone will have to go.

What’s Rudolf Balcers’s Ceiling?

A Pat Answer

The San Jose Sharks, however, may have stumbled onto a solution at fourth line in Patrick Marleau between Marcus Sorensen and Matt Nieto.

While that’s obviously premature to conclude — it’s just two games together — the trio has a more recent track record of success than the aforementioned top-nine candidates. Marleau was good enough last year to garner a third-round draft pick at the Trade Deadline; Sorensen scored 17 goals just two years ago; and Nieto returns to San Jose from Colorado as a rock-solid fourth-line winger.

There’s defensive acumen here: Nieto and Marleau led all Sharks forwards in penalty-killing time tonight, and Sorensen is a regular PK’er too. There might be enough offense: If Sorensen can re-discover his 2018-19 form and Marleau can at least half-remember his salad days. And there’s certainly speed.

“All three of us are just experienced guys,” Nieto offered. “We work for each other and we can all play with pace.”

If Sorensen-Marleau-Nieto is an answer, and we assume, despite Boughner’s complaints tonight, that the top-five forwards will figure themselves out, that leaves one other line in question.

This year, will Gambrell help answer that bell?

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whiskerz

Will be nice to have a consistent 4th line if that sticks.

Not going out and signing an established 3C is definitely coming back to bite us is the ass to start the season (say a Brassard or Haula), we seem to have plenty wingers who seem NHL quality consistently…. who knows maybe Sasha is our 3C answer?

I wouldn’t mine seeing the Sharks try a line of:

Leonard-Chemelveski-Gambrell

Zeke

The other day, you wrote about the 3rd F high to slow down the other team. The Wild put on a clinic on this after they took the 2-1 lead.

Joe

Not to be off topic. 28 and 62 need to step up their games. EK 65 looked great last night. Too bad some of those great passes were not followed up by a goal. I know I have been rough on EK 65, but when you are in that salary neighborhood, you need to bring it every game. I hope we get that every game. Somebody has to find the back of the net. Tough for them to be the only team on the road all season. They should get an extra point or two for that!

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