Playing in their fourth straight game against the same opponent tonight, the San Jose Barracuda are still looking for their first win of the season against the Bakersfield Condors.
“I think we need to have better starts, obviously,” defenseman Ryan Merkley said before Tuesday’s game.
The 20-year-old has helped his team with just that, scoring the Barracuda’s first goal on Saturday and assisting on the opening goal last night. However, those two games showed a “better start” alone isn’t enough. Bakersfield recovered from back-to-back third period deficits to win in overtime.
The Condors have been the Barracuda’s most common opponent so far this season, and a sure source of frustration. San Jose suffered its first shutout loss of the year to the Condors Mar. 3, then lost back-to-back games in Bakersfield Mar. 12-13.
Through their first three matchups, Bakersfield was always the first to score.
“They’re a good, solid, older team,” Merkley said. “You can’t be digging yourself into a hole every time.”
Merkley opened the scoring Tuesday night by setting up Joachim Blichfeld just seven seconds into a power play.
Joachim Blichfeld opens the scoring on the power play. Assists for Ryan Merkley & Alexander True pic.twitter.com/AEIHdrplgI
— Brian Truong (@_BrianTruong) March 17, 2021
With defenseman Nick DeSimone up on the San Jose Sharks taxi squad, Merkley is now enjoying the responsibility of running the first power play unit. He was with Blichfeld, Joel Kellman, Alexander True, and Jayden Halbegewachs Tuesday night.
“When he goes up to the Sharks, that’s where he’s going to play,” head coach Roy Sommer said. “So they want to see him in that role as much as possible. And actually, man, he’s got high-end offensive skill.”
After only recording two assists through the first eight games, Merkley now has five points in five games, four assists and his first professional goal. On Saturday, he carried the puck behind Bakersfield’s net and chipped a backhand shot off the goalie to tie the game.
— Brian Truong (@_BrianTruong) March 14, 2021
“I think I faked a pass to [Blichfeld], tried to buy myself some space and time,” Merkley said. “I knew if I was going to go around the net, the goalie would bite and go to the far post. So I just tried to stop up quick and bank it off him.”
And while his offense is heating up, the San Jose Sharks’ 2018 first round draft pick said his main focus has been defensive play.
“Taking away gaps and time, working back for my partner — the basics,” Merkley said. “I’m trying to get that down one hundred percent. I think it’s gone well, it’s getting there. It’s just getting used to the pace and size of these guys.”
Merkley has raved about his experience of staying with Brent Burns and former Shark Curtis Brown during training camps. Now in his first full season in San Jose, the 5’11” Merkley lives with teammates Kurtis Gabriel (6’4”), Zach Gallant (6’2”), and Brandon Coe (6’4”).
“Some big boys in the house,” Merkley said. “A lot of eating … a little grappling and wrestling, it’s fun.”
Gabriel was called up to the NHL Mar. 2 and quickly endeared himself to the San Jose Sharks with both his fighting words and fists.
“[Gabriel’s] just like how he is in the interviews,” Merkley said. “Likes to have fun, keep the mood loose. He’s a great guy to look up to off the ice. Treats his body well. He’s been awesome, it’s been lots of fun.”
Barracuda give up third period lead, again
While the Barracuda (5-4-4-0) were finally able to score first, it ended with another overtime loss to the Condors (9-5-0-0) Tuesday night. It was also the Barracuda’s first game inside SAP Center since March 7, 2020.
Blichfeld’s power play goal was his team-leading 11th point of the year, assisted by Merkley and Alexander True. After Bakersfield tied the game later in the second period, Sasha Chmelevski cleaned up a rebound to regain a 2-1 lead.
good morning Josef Korenar had a great game yesterday pic.twitter.com/7hUlK9f7fd
— Brian Truong (@_BrianTruong) March 17, 2021
But in a repeat of Saturday’s loss, the Barracuda faltered late in the third period. The Condors tied the game with 3:30 left and scored in overtime for their 10th consecutive win. Goaltender Josef Korenar stopped made 34 saves in the loss.
The Barracuda and Condors re-match again Wednesday night.
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