There were so many positives in the San Jose Sharks’ 2-1 OT victory over Winnipeg, it’s hard to choose just one.
But one under-the-radar positive could mean big things for the San Jose Sharks.
Alexander Barabanov was a late-season surprise last year, notching seven points in nine games after coming over from Toronto at the Trade Deadline.
There were hopes this fall that Barabanov could continue where he left off last season, or at the very least, secure a top-nine role for the Sharks.
It hasn’t worked out that way for the 27-year-old. He started training camp skating with Tomas Hertl, but after suffering an undisclosed lower-body injury in a preseason game, found himself out of the opening night line-up.
Barabanov made his season debut at the end of the San Jose Sharks’ five-game road trip, skating in back-to-back games in Boston and Nashville. He was so impressive, Bob Boughner healthy scratched him on Thursday against Montreal, their first contest back at SAP Center.
On Friday, Boughner declared that Barabanov was coming back into the line-up versus the Jets: “We’re looking for offense. I need to see more out of his game. I had that conversation with him.”
The San Jose Sharks got that “more” tonight from Barabanov, suddenly promoted to the top line with Hertl and Timo Meier because of a COVID outbreak that sidelined seven teammates and Boughner.
Hertl finds the back of the net 🚨 pic.twitter.com/eCpwUtfAKx
— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) October 31, 2021
It’s not just about getting an assist here: It’s how Barabanov (94) earned it.
That’s Barabanov coming down the right wing against Josh Morrissey (44). What’s key here is Barabanov’s patience: He doesn’t try to skate through Morrissey – he can’t. Instead, he protects the puck, even turning his body ever so slightly at the top of the circle to avoid the defender. Barabanov continues to shield as Morrissey goes for the poke check near the blue line.
That’s when Barabanov opens up.
He’s buying time, waiting for help. When Morrissey reaches and misses, Barabanov stops up. This causes Morrissey to overskate – that’s what happens when you commit one way (and miss) – and the guy you’re chasing goes the other way.
Barabanov, now on his forehand, has a wealth of time and space – and Timo Meier’s (28) stick is now available. Hertl bangs home the rebound.
“He protects the puck, he does a lot of little things,” Boughner said of Alexander Barabanov – last year. “And he’s a smart player, really smart player.”
That’s what we saw last night. Here are a few more examples.
Barabanov holds along the wall, luring Neal Pionk (4) in for a pinch. When Pionk bites, Barabanov hits Hertl coming up the middle. Hertl’s got a step and that’s one Jet left behind — all this leads to a 2-on-1.
Barabanov has two particularly deft touches on his shift: He yo-yos Andrew Copp (9) to hit the weakside speed Santeri Hatakka (61) (00:01), navigates Nate Schmidt (88) and slides it through Copp to Meier (00:12). They weren’t huge plays, but they were good next plays, putting his teammates in good positions.
“He competed hard on pucks,” acting head coach John MacLean offered. “When he’s skating and making plays, that’s his game.”
“He was a big part of the win,” Hertl said.
MacLean agreed: “Hopefully, this is a good springboard for him.”
And for the surprising 5-3-0 San Jose Sharks.
Last year’s Barabanov was back, at least for one night. If he can keep it up, that’s one more solid piece for an increasingly surprising Sharks forward corps.
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