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Quick Thoughts: Sharks Survive Season Opener in Desert



Credit: NBCS Bay Area

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s just one game, but Erik Karlsson was not good in the San Jose Sharks’ 4-3 shootout victory over the Arizona Coyotes.

But more on that in my “Winning Play” article later.

Here are some quick thoughts from the season opener:

John Leonard

Last pre-season, this is when I had a good sense that Mario Ferraro was ready for the NHL:

From the outset of the 2019 Rookie Faceoff, Ferraro’s skating and energy stood out. But here, the 5-foot-11 defenseman was showing that he was strong enough to compete in the best league in the world.

That’s what I saw earlier tonight from John Leonard in his NHL debut:

Like Ferraro, Leonard is 5-foot-11, but he’s got a solid base. So we can add NHL-caliber strength to his already obvious skating and shooting skills.

A scout texted me during the game, “I like Leonard, good tools and speed!”

Bob Boughner was certainly impressed. Leonard played just 13:14, mostly with Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl, but he might be playing more soon.

“I’m almost kicking ourselves for not putting him out on the 4-on-3. That’s his game,” Boughner shared.

But it wasn’t just about offense, of which Leonard had two assists in his NHL debut.

“Defensively, he was responsible. I think as we move along here, we’re going to see more added duties. A little bit more ice-time, for sure, I think he deserves it,” Boughner said. “He’s earned the right to be on that line.”

His centerman, Hertl, added: “He’s got a big future.”

So let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. This is a rookie. It’s just one good game.

But we can safely conclude this:

Third Line?

The caveat, once again, is it’s one game.

Obviously, the Kane-Hertl-Leonard line was terrific. Boughner called Kane and Hertl his two best skaters.

“This is the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Kane said of just being on the ice, in reference to his headline-grabbing financial problems.

Meanwhile, the Timo Meier-Logan Couture-Kevin Labanc trio was nowhere as dominating, but the moments were there. They should be fine.

For the San Jose Sharks, they need one more line capable of playing high-leverage minutes — and the third line of Matt Nieto-Noah Gregor-Ryan Donato was found wanting. They’re a speed line that didn’t push the attack the other way enough.

“You don’t want to be a one-line team,” Boughner admitted.

Bad teams have one line, mediocre teams have two lines, good teams have three lines. In other words, the Sharks won’t go far if they don’t find a solution.

Here’s one promising note worth investigating though: Per SPORTLOGiQ, Donato actually led both teams with three Scoring Chances Off the Rush, all situations. No other Sharks or Coyotes player had more than one.

So maybe they were better than I thought? I’ll take a look later.

Donato, as advertised by Boughner, is also a shootout ace:

Martin Jones

Besides Kane and Hertl, Martin Jones was clearly the San Jose Sharks’ best player.

This was not an easy game: For most Sharks, this was their first action in 10 months, and it showed with high-danger chance after high-danger chance surrendered.

At least they got their share of quality shots too: Per SPORTLOGiQ, both squads enjoyed 14 Slot Shots on Net, all situations. Conor Garland led all skaters with a whopping six Slot Shots on Net. Hertl led the Sharks with four.

But back to Jones — there was no save better, and more important, than his 2-on-0 pad save on Derick Brassard in overtime.

It would’ve been an OT loss for the Sharks that would’ve felt like a complete loss: San Jose had a commanding 3-1 lead with four minutes left in regulation.

Jones, as usual, was self-effacing when describing his own work: “Just trying to stay patient. Try to make the best read I can. I was late getting over. I just tried to throw my foot out there. Got lucky.”

Kane volunteered: “You could tell there was something a little different about him when he got into camp, just the way he was moving out there and taking up a lot of the net.”

Regardless, the San Jose Sharks will need to tighten up their team defense…a lot.

“We were able to get some good work on our d-zone play. Maybe a little too much tonight,” Kane joked. “Joner played well.”

We can give the Sharks’ team defense a mulligan tonight, and for a few nights yet. It’s been 10 months. But one line and relying on a goalie with a .896 Save % combined over the last two seasons won’t be a consistent winning formula.

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